Israel Trip Report (August - September 2018)

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Israel Trip Report (August - September 2018)

Note: Although this report was written recently, it describes my trip from late summer 2018, so some specifics may have changed since then, and/or other historical or religious details mentioned may be mistakes or misunderstandings on my part. There was so much to see and learn about that it was difficult to remember everything clearly; even if I had written the report shortly after my trip, I still may not have gotten everything right. But here goes …

Thursday, August 23: The Night Before in NYC

On the evening before our departure, we took a car service from our home in Pennsylvania to Manhattan, staying overnight at the Hilton Garden Inn Midtown East. We ate dinner at the nearby Monkey Bar at the Hotel Elysee. In the morning, we had an early appointment near the hotel, but we had the whole day free after that. Our first stop was an early lunch at the Central Park Loeb Boathouse, followed by a trip on the overhead tram (gondola) to Roosevelt Island, where we took the complimentary bus ride around the island, stopping to explore the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern end and Lighthouse Park on the northern end. Upon our return to Manhattan, we had an afternoon break at Serendipity Café for some frozen hot chocolate and a quick trip to Dylan’s Candy Bar before we returned to the hotel, claimed our luggage, and took a taxi to JFK Airport’s Terminal 4 (about $75 USD). Our non-stop Delta flight number 468 to Tel Aviv on an Airbus A330-300 departed at 10:59pm.

Friday, August 24: Flight to Tel Aviv and Then Driving to Jerusalem

We arrived in Tel Aviv almost 11 hours later at 4:50pm on a Friday, which perhaps was not the best time and day of the week to arrive due to the beginning of the Sabbath (however, it was the best day and time in terms of price and availability for plane tickets). After we cleared immigration and customs, we tried to withdraw some money from an ATM cash machine so that we would have some Israeli shekels as “walking-around” money (otherwise, we planned to use our credit cards whenever possible), but our US ATM card did not work. Instead, we joined a line of other travelers waiting to convert money at the cambio onsite.

We hailed a taxi to drive us the 45 minutes (about 35 miles) to our hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem (about $70 USD). The Waldorf Astoria opened in April 2014 at the corner of Agron and King David Streets, with convenient access to the outdoor Mamilla Mall and the Old City. The hotel occupies the former site of the 1929 Palace Hotel, which later became a government building. The Waldorf offers three kosher restaurants and bars (The Palace, King’s Court, and Garden Terrace), meeting/event space, and fitness center. (There were rumors that a spa and outdoor swimming pool were in the planning stages when we visited, but I’m not sure whether they ever opened.) The Waldorf offers 226 rooms and suites. Our King Grand Deluxe room contained a large bathroom (with free-standing soaking bathtub, separate cubicles for the toilet and shower, a large sink vanity, and AHAVA Dead Sea toiletries) with a large closet located just outside. The bedroom area was a bit cozy, with a king-size bed and a nightstand on each side, a desk/chair, and a comfortable lounge chair in front of the sliding door that led out to the balcony (with two chairs). We were a bit disappointed not to have received a lodging upgrade as Diamond HHonors members, but perhaps the hotel was full. (Although the size of our room totaled about 460 square feet, the bathroom and closet entry area probably occupied more than 160 feet of that space, which made the bedroom area [where we spent most of our time] seem undersized. Next time, we would probably just book a regular King Deluxe room [which probably had a smaller bathroom but a similarly sized bedroom] instead of splurging.)

It was interesting to arrive at the Waldorf in the late afternoon just as Shabbat (also called Shabbos or the Sabbath) was beginning. The hotel was filled with local Jewish families who were immaculately groomed and impeccably dressed and ready to begin their evening service in one of the hotel’s lower-level banquet rooms. (Most of them also seemed to be staying at the hotel for the night.) We ourselves are not Jewish, and even though we have a few Jewish acquaintances, they aren’t particularly observant (except for one family friend who keeps Kosher [put in the simplest terms, she does not consume meat and dairy products in the same meal, and only specific proteins prepared in a certain way] even when she visits with us for meals). We have occasionally walked through one of the more devout Jewish neighborhoods in NYC, and we have seen some Orthodox Jews clad in modest dress, with fabric (or wig) head coverings for women, and long side curls (called payot) and black hats for men (or kippah [yarmulkes] for younger men), but we really didn’t understand the meaning behind it. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of stars in the sky on Saturday night. It begins by lighting candles and reciting a prayer called the Kiddush over two loaves of challah bread, whereas it ends the next night with a closing prayer called the Havdalah that is also recited over two loaves of bread. Traditionally, three festive meals are eaten: one on Friday evening, the second early on Saturday afternoon, and the third late on Saturday afternoon. During Shabbat, families spend time together, and most importantly, they refrain from any kind of work or from discussing unpleasant topics (such as money, business, politics, or non-religious things). “Work” doesn’t necessarily refer to one’s profession (although it includes that as well), it also means any kind of deliberate activity, including farming, gardening, sewing, building/lighting/putting out a fire, transporting/carrying things, and driving, among many others. We were stunned to find out that “work” even includes pressing the buttons in an elevator (therefore, there are separate Shabbat lifts at the Waldorf that stop on every floor so that no one needs to press anything), using electricity (such as turning on/off the lights in a hotel room, which is done using clocks and timers at the Waldorf), and cooking (anything presented on the hotel’s Saturday breakfast/brunch buffet must be prepared the day before). It was truly fascinating to get a glimpse into the details of another religion. Prior to our trip, we had heard that on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most religious and 1 being the least), that the city of Jerusalem was a 5, whereas Tel Aviv was a 2 and the Galilee was somewhere in between; this was our experience as well, because on the following Friday, when we stayed in Tel Aviv, the atmosphere and religious accommodations were distinctly different. (I hope that I didn’t write anything offensive in this paragraph; I was truly captivated by what I experienced during Shabbat, although it is clear that I still have a lot to learn about the customs of a faith that are so different than mine.)

After we settled in at the hotel, we walked about 5 minutes to the nearby Super Mamilla convenience store/market. We stopped here daily to buy snacks and drinks (both alcoholic and non-) to enjoy in our room. After dropping our supplies back at the hotel, we took a 10-minute walk to a restaurant called Rina and Alice. (Although it was only a 0.5-mile walk, it was not on flat roads but instead on gentle hills, making the walk slightly more challenging after a long day.) At the restaurant, we shared two starters (hummus and cauliflower), one wood-fired pizza (cooked in a clay oven called a taboon), and three rounds of drinks for about $55 USD. Although we were able to use a credit card for the bill, we had to leave our gratuity in cash. We felt lucky to find this restaurant open on Friday night, when so many others seemed to be closed because of Shabbat.

Later, back at the Waldorf, we enjoyed a nightcap at the elegant King’s Court bar. Because the Waldorf did not have an executive lounge (perhaps this has changed since our visit), we were given a drink coupon for one complimentary cocktail per person. We were under the mistaken impression that we would receive a coupon for each night of our stay, but when we requested another coupon on the following night, the front desk clerks laughed at us. What a horrible response to an honest error! At the nightly prices that the Waldorf charges for even the most basic room (about $400 USD), the nightly drink idea did not seem so far-fetched to us.

Saturday, August 25: Driving Tour of Jerusalem

Today, we enjoyed our first amazing breakfast buffet at the Waldorf (breakfast was included complimentary with our room rate, valued at about $45 USD per person per day [and probably worth every penny!]). The Israeli breakfast is thought to have originated on the kibbutz (a communal settlement). During the early days of the state of Israel, residents of a kibbutz ate their meals in a communal dining hall, where it was common for the residents to eat a light snack very early in the morning, work in the fields for several hours, then return to the dining hall for a hearty mid-morning buffet meal, similar to a brunch. By the 1950s, Israeli hotels were promoting the "Israeli breakfast" in a style similar to the kibbutz meals. The buffet breakfast at the Waldorf was a dairy meal (so there were no traditional breakfast meats like bacon, sausage, or ham [which weren’t even missed by these bacon-lovers!]), although cheeses, eggs, and fish were available. Although we don’t recall seeing shakshuka (poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce) at the Waldorf, we saw it at other hotels later in our trip. The buffet included items like Israeli salad (tomato, cucumber, peppers, onion), hummus (mashed chickpea dip), tahini (ground sesame dip), halloumi (cheese), fava bean salad, baba ghanoush (smoky eggplant dip), labaneh (yogurt), fresh vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, radishes, onions, carrots), olives, fresh fruits, bread, pastries, and some heartier dishes (like noodle kugel); the list just goes on and on! The Israeli breakfast buffet is really something to behold! In fact, it has even been called "the Jewish state's contribution to world cuisine"!

Afterward our meal, we met our private tour guide, Richard Woolf, in the lobby, where we loaded into his tour-guide-certified KIA minivan for the day’s driving tour of Jerusalem. Richard is a retired gentleman born in the UK (but who has been an Israeli citizen for decades) who is a font of knowledge for all things Israel and Jewish. We contacted Richard via email a few weeks prior to our trip, and we were fortunate that he had availability to guide us for the next week. Besides glowing recommendations, one thing that we liked about Richard was that he didn’t require us to pay for his lodging during that week; he either traveled back home at night or stayed with a family member or friend instead. (Other guides that we contacted wanted us to pay for their rooms at the same hotels where we stayed, which in the case of the Waldorf, would have meant incurring a ~$400 USD per night hotel bill for the guide on top of his guiding fees. All guides required us to pay meals (which we would have done anyway), but the lodging seemed like too much to ask. Also, some guides required us to stay on kibbutzes and eat all our meals onsite there, and that just isn’t the way we like to travel. So we were thrilled to have found Richard!)

Our first stop was the grounds of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, which opened in 1925. Albert Einstein was one of the founders, and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and actress Natalie Portman are alumnae. An observation point on Mount Scopus allowed us excellent panoramic views of the Old City.

Our next destination was the Mount of Olives, named for the groves of trees that once covered its slopes. Today, the top of the hill holds a mostly Muslim village called At-Tur. We drove past the Augusta Victoria Hospital, a church-hospital complex built in the early 1900s as a center for German Protestants in Ottoman Palestine. From the northern side of the Mount of Olives, we viewed Mount Scopus and the Kidron Valley, and we were able to see the Temple Mount from another side. Religiously, the Mount of Olives has been used as a Jewish Cemetery for more than 3,000 years and holds over 150,000 graves. Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin is one of the more famous “residents”. Jewish people desire to be buried there because they believe that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin on the Mount of Olives. In addition, it is a site of Christian pilgrimage because of its association with Jesus and his mother Mary. Jesus is said to have taught his disciples on the Mount, he is thought to have gone from there to the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed, and he is believed to have ascended to heaven from there. As proof of this belief, there are several “Churches of the Ascension” there for various religions, including Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, and Catholic.

At the foot of the Mount of Olives, we visited the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. The Garden is recognized as the place where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept on the night before his crucifixion, the place where Jesus and the disciples spent their time between the Last Supper and Jesus’s arrest. In Aramaic, Gethsemane means “oil press”, and eight ancient olive trees remain today. The trees are surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, so you can see inside but not walk among them.

Next to the Garden is the Roman Catholic Church of All Nations (also called the Church/Basilica of the Agony), which was built in the 1920s with combined money from 12 countries (including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the UK, and the US). A coat of arms of these countries is incorporated into the ceiling design, each in a separate small dome and in the mosaics. Three other countries (Hungary, Ireland, and Poland) paid for the three large mosaics in the apses (which show the kiss of Judas, Jesus being consoled by an angel, and Jesus’s arrest), with Australia sponsoring the decorative wrought-iron wreath (meant to resemble a crown of thorns) surrounding the rock where Jesus is thought to have prayed before his arrest. The mosaic floors are interesting, an original part of which is preserved under glass. We were fortunate to observe a Mass taking place, although it was in another language (perhaps Thai or Vietnamese); the congregation of the visiting church was permitted to cluster reverently around the altar for the service. Outside the church, a captivating vibrant, colorful triangular mosaic at the top of the facade shows Jesus mediating between God and mankind as he gives his heart to an angel. On Christ’s left, peasants look confidently at him, whereas on his right, another group acknowledges its mistakes.

After we visited the garden and church, we crossed the street and descended down an L-shaped set of marble stairs in order to enter the Tomb of the Virgin Mary (also called the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary). Because the tomb is underground, we walked down a huge set of 47 marble stairs. At the bottom, walls were blackened with smoke from centuries of burning candles, and the ceiling is strung with hundreds of icons and oil lanterns (many topped with what appears to be a large egg, but is in fact a way to prevent rats from eating the olive oil fuel). In the dim space, pilgrims can wait in line to pass before a shrine to pay their respects to the Mother of God. Mary is believed to have died a natural death, at which time her soul rose to heaven (the “Ascension”), and three days later, her body was resurrected to join her soul (the “Assumption”). Like her son, Mary’s tomb was also found empty on the third day. As we went down the stairs, we saw the Chapel of Saints Joachim and Anne (Mary’s parents) on one side, originally built as the tomb of Jerusalem’s Queen Melisende, and the Chapel of Saint Joseph (Mary’s husband) on the other side, initially constructed as tombs for the queen’s relatives. Various altars can be seen on the subterranean floor.

Back in the daylight, we jumped back in the car and proceeded toward the Israel Museum. On the way, we passed the Israeli Supreme Court and the Parliament (called the Knesset, where we would have liked to have seen the Marc Chagall tapestries and mosaics that tell the story of the Jewish people from the biblical Patriarch Jacob to the establishment of the State of Israel, but we didn’t have time). The Israel Museum, a 20-acre property established in 1965, includes the world’s most comprehensive collections of the archaeology of the Holy Land, as well as sections for Israeli Art, European Art, Modern Art, Contemporary Art, Prints and Drawings, Photography, Design and Architecture, Asian Art, African Art, Oceanic Art, and Arts of the Americas. Among the unique objects on display inside the museum are the interior of a 1736 synagogue from Suriname (as well as three other reconstructed synagogues), necklaces worn by Jewish brides in Yemen (as well as other dresses and jewelry), a mosaic Islamic prayer niche from 17th-century Persia, a nail attesting to the practice of crucifixion in Jesus’ time, and a wide variety of Jewish ceremonial and ritual objects. An urn-shaped building called the Shrine of the Book houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and artifacts discovered at Masada. The Scrolls are considered to be the oldest biblical manuscripts in the world, discovered as recently as 1947 hidden in 11 caves in and around the Wadi Qumran area. The building consists of an above-ground white dome perched over a building that is located two-thirds below the ground, with the dome reflected in a pool of water that surrounds it, symbolizing the Sons of Light (from the Scrolls). Across from the white dome is a black basalt wall, which represents the Sons of Darkness. The dimly lit interior of the shrine is meant to depict the environment in which the scrolls were found. The entire structure was designed to resemble the clay pots in which the scrolls were found. Because the scrolls are so fragile, they cannot all be displayed all the time, so a rotation system is used. After a scroll has been on exhibit for 3 to 6 months, it is removed from its showcase and placed temporarily in a special storeroom, where it "rests" from exposure. The museum also holds other rare ancient manuscripts, including the Aleppo Codex, believed to be the oldest Bible written in Hebrew that dates back to the tenth century. Adjacent to the Shrine is the Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, which reconstructs the topography and architecture of the city as it looked prior to its destruction by the Romans in 66 AD. Originally constructed on the grounds of Jerusalem's Holyland Hotel, the model includes a replica of Herod's Temple. Additionally outdoors is a modern and abstract sculpture garden, including works by Rodin and Picasso, as well as an area that displays archaeological ruins. One of the antiquities that we saw was the overhead door lintel excavated from the Nabartein Synagogue located near Safed, the remains of which we would see two days later during a driving tour. Admission to the museum costs about $15 USD per person. As you would expect with any similar world-class museum, it offers a gift shop, restrooms, parking, and restaurants (both Kosher meat and dairy, however, no food service was available on the day that we visited because it was Shabbat).

Next, it was time for lunch in the charming hillside village of Ein Kerem. Along the way, we passed the Hadassah Medical Center, but unfortunately because it was Saturday, we were unable to visit so that we could view Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows showing the 12 tribes of Israel. Each day, Richard gave us two options for lunch: one quicker, less expensive counter service choice, and another slower, more expensive table service meal; in every instance, we chose the longer option, because having a nice relaxing noontime meal is important to us. We dined on the sidewalk terrace of the restaurant Pundak, where our delicious meal for three people (two salads, one kebab main dish [with a small green salad and French fries], and some drinks) cost about $90 USD. Pundak has been operating for over 25 years, but only in its current location (an historic landmark Spanish building) recently. The restaurant offers both indoor seating and outdoor dining (on either a front sidewalk patio or in a garden), a small bar, and a private event room. The restaurant considers itself Italian (perhaps because it has a brick oven to cook focaccia and pizza), but we thought that it offered a well-rounded international menu. The salad that I ordered there (served in a thin bread bowl) was the best one in all my days in Israel (and Israelis know how to make a great salad!).

Ein Kerem (which means “spring of the vineyard”) is known as the birthplace of John the Baptist (said to be in a cave). The village is currently home to five churches and monasteries including the Church of St. John the Baptist (there is another church in the Old City with the same name), Visitation Church, Notre Dame de Sion Convent, Greek Orthodox St. John Convent, and the Al Moskovia (Gorny) Russian Monastery. The village is also home to Mary’s Well, where it is believed that Mary (miraculously pregnant with Jesus) drank from its waters while accompanied by her cousin Elizabeth (also miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist at the same time).

After lunch, we took a short walk before climbing hundreds of stairs to reach the Church of the Visitation (also called the Abbey Church of St John in the Woods). In the courtyard, a lovely statue of pregnant Mary and Elizabeth stands in front of a wall bearing 42 colorful ceramic tiles written with the verses of the Magnificat (Mary’s song of praise, an ancient Marian hymn) in many languages. The two-story modern Catholic church (built in 1955 atop the remains of an ancient Byzantine and Crusader church) commemorates the site where Mary recited the Magnificat. In the lower part of the church, where mosaics and frescoes show the Visitation between the two women, we were treated to a group of French tourists singing the Magnificat near the crypt (the Rock of Concealment where Elizabeth hid her infant son John from Herod’s soldiers during the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem). The upper church is dedicated to Mary, and its walls contains gorgeously colored scenes from her life, including The Wedding at Cana (when Mary was consecrated as the mediator between men and Jesus), the Council of Ephesus (when Mary was declared to be the Mother of God), and a more (relatively) modern scene from the mid-1500s of a Greek naval battle in which Christians defeated the Ottomans under the blessing of the Virgin Mary (celebrated during the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary).

Feeling that our day of sightseeing was full, we declined to visit Ein Kerem’s Church of St John the Baptist, and instead returned to the hotel to rest. Afterward, because it was still Shabbat, we had a difficult time finding a bar/restaurant where we could enjoy happy hour, finally settling on the Glen (Whiskey) Bar, where we had about 4 beers for $20 USD. We sat outside on their makeshift sidewalk café and watched pedestrians and traffic go by. Then we stopped at the Super Mamila market around the corner before returning to the hotel to change for dinner. (Glen Bar and the grocery store are about a 5-minute walk from the hotel, although up a slight hill and across a somewhat busy street.)

It was still not after sundown, so restaurant choices in the immediate vicinity were limited, so instead, we took a quick taxi ride (about $10 USD for a 5-minute ride) to a venue called First Station because we had heard that several restaurants there might be open. First Station is an historic train station that was part of the Jaffa - Jerusalem railway route, back when it was called Khan Station because of the old caravanserai building across the street. (A caravanserai was a roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from the day's journey. Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information, and people across the network of trade routes covering Asia, North Africa, and Southeast Europe, most notably, the Silk Road.) The station first opened in 1892 and closed in 1998; however, after laying neglected for many years, in 2013 it reopened as a cultural and entertainment center. The old station offices, ticket hall, and concourse are now home to wooden decks, restaurants, vendor carts, and children’s rides. On the Saturday night that we visited, a live band was playing on the stage, but that area sometimes hosts movies, dancing, and other activities.

Not all of the cafes and pubs were open yet (they did open after sundown, however), making it easier to choose a restaurant. Although the restaurant Adom looked crowded, when we inquired about availability with the hostess, we were pleased that she offered us two seats at the bar. Although Adom originally opened in 2001 in the Finegold Courtyard in the city center, in 2013 it moved to First Station. The Mediterranean, French, and Italian-inspired menu is fairly encompassing, offering fish and seafood, meat, and pasta. Besides its fine-dining seasonal menu, Adom also offers a lighter late-night menu and children’s options. The restaurant offers outdoor seating on a deck, as well as dining indoors in one of two rooms: the main dining area and the bar room, which contains tables arranged around the three-sided bar. A private room can be reserved to host 14 guests. The name “Adom” means “red” in Hebrew, a nod to the color of the walls as well as to the wines that the original restaurant served. In addition to Adom, the partners also own the Colony, Lavan (which is Hebrew for “white”) at the Cinematique, Khanele at the Khan Theatre (almost across the street from The First Station), and Khan Catering. The drink menu arrived in a novel wooden box (with selections offered on index-like cards) along with some freshly baked bread and a spread. We had an excellent dinner of a shared starter (although it was called a sabich, it was not the traditional sandwich, instead a bowl of grains and vegetables, topped with a semi-cooked egg), two main dishes (chicken in coconut sauce and squash risotto), a shared dessert (an amazing presentation of tahini ice cream and other dollops of goodness), and a few rounds of drinks for about $120 USD.

We took a taxi from First Station back to the Waldorf, which we arranged using the Israeli Gett app (similar to Uber or Lyft, which were not permitted in Israel at the time). Although it was only a short ride, it cost about $10 USD. (It was less than one mile from the restaurant to the hotel; however, it was not on flat ground but instead over some gentle hills, and we were tired after our long day of sightseeing.)

Sunday, August 26: Walking Tour of Old City Jerusalem

After we enjoyed another fantastic breakfast at the hotel, we met our guide for a walking tour of the Old City. We left the hotel, walked through the outdoor Mamila Mall, and entered the city through the Jaffa Gate. The name “Jaffa Gate” refers to both the historical Ottoman gate from 1538 and to the wide gap in the city wall that currently allows cars to enter. The old gate has the shape of a medieval gate tower with an L-shaped entryway (a defensive design to slow down attackers) that was secured at both ends with heavy doors. The breach in the wall was created in 1898 by the Ottoman authorities to allow German emperor Wilhelm II to enter the city triumphantly.

The term Old City refers to a 0.35-square mile walled area within the modern city that is home to several key religious sites for three different religions: the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims. The Old City was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1981. The city's defensive walls and gates were built between the years 1535 and 1542 by Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The walls stretch for 2.8 miles, and are between 16 and 49 feet high, 10 feet thick, and contain 35 towers. During different periods, the city walls followed different outlines and had a varying number of gates. During the era of the Crusaders, there were four gates, one on each side. The current walls have six gates; several older gates that were walled up before the arrival of the Ottomans were left as they were. The number of operational gates increased to seven after the addition of the New Gate in 1887; the smaller eighth Tanners' Gate was unsealed for visitors after being discovered during excavations in the 1990s. The sealed historic gates comprise four that are at least partially preserved (the double Golden Gate in the eastern wall, and the Single, Triple, and Double Gates in the southern wall), with several other gates discovered by archaeologists of which only traces remain (the Gate of the Essenes on Mount Zion, the Gate of Herod's Royal Palace, and the Gate of the Funerals). Until 1887, each gate was closed before sunset and opened again at sunrise.

The Old City is divided into four uneven quarters: the Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter, and Jewish Quarter. Despite the names, there was no ethnic segregation.

We first visited the Armenian Quarter, the smallest of the four quarters. (Although Armenians are Christian, the Armenian Quarter is distinct from the Christian Quarter.) As we admired the exterior of the Cathedral of St. James, we were the only three people there, and a guard manning the gate asked us whether we would like a tour inside the monastery compound. Our guide was quick to accept his offer, never having been permitted inside in all his years of guiding. We passed clerical and lay residences, a school, a museum, a soccer field, and the Church of the Archangel (also called the Convent of the Olive Tree). It is believed that Jesus was bound to an olive tree here during his trial; it is said that the fruits of that tree are miraculous, so I asked (and was permitted) to eat one to help with my medical issues. Armenians displaced from the former Ottoman Empire because of the genocide brought along a special type of Turkish-style ceramic, which is now associated with Jerusalem and Armenians because it is now used for all the street signs in the Old City and is also sold in many stores. Also, Armenians are known for establishing the first printing press in 1833, the first photographic workshop in 1855, and the first coeducational school in Jerusalem.

Next, we visited the Christian Quarter, which contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered Christianity's holiest place. Before we went to the revered church, we exited out the Zion Gate onto Mount Zion (also called the City of David) so that we could visit the beautiful Dormition Abbey (also called the Basilica of the Assumption, but previously called the Abbey of Hagia Maria Sion), a Benedictine community. But we were too early (it hadn’t opened for the day yet), so we had to admire its exterior only. According to local tradition, it was on this spot, near the site of the Last Supper, that the Blessed Virgin Mary died and ended her worldly existence. Both in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, death is often called "sleeping", which gave the original monastery its name. In Catholic scripture, during the Assumption of Mary, Christ's mother was taken, body and soul, to heaven. The present church is a circular building with several niches containing altars and a choir. Two spiral staircases lead to the crypt, the site ascribed to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

Then, we visited the David’s Tomb Compound, a two-story stone building that is now known as the Cenacle (also called the Upper Room), a room that was the site of the Last Supper, as well as the room where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, where the disciples gathered after Jesus’ ascension, and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles after Pentecost. The main room has beautiful stained glass windows that tell the story of David and two men who wronged each other (litigants). We climbed some steps to the roof of this building, which our guide said was popular during the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank (1948 to 1967), when Israeli Jews were unable to visit holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Tomb of David was promoted as a place of worship, and the roof of the building above the Cenacle was important because it offered views of the Temple Mount, becoming a symbol of prayer and yearning. After we visited the Cenacle and rooftop views, we descended below ground to visit David’s Tomb. The true site of David's burial is unknown, although the Jewish Bible and the Old Testament place it in the City of David near Siloam. In the fourth century, David and his father were believed to be buried in Bethlehem. The idea that David was entombed on what was later called Mount Zion dates to the 9th century. However, this remains an important pilgrimage site to pay respects to the celebrated Old Testament warrior king of Israel who is traditionally credited with composing many of the Psalms. The site is run in a synagogue model, where the tombstone is in the interior room, with separate entrances for men and women. At the center of the room is a tomb covered by a cloth behind which you can see an alcove in the wall, a remnant of the ancient synagogue that was mentioned in the Byzantine era as one of the seven synagogues that were located on Mount Zion.

Afterward, we entered back into the walled city through the Zion Gate so that we could visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also called the Church of the Resurrection, or the Church of the Anastasis), which contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified at a place known as Calvary (or Golgotha), and Jesus's empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. (A “sepulchre” is a small room or monument cut in rock or built of stone in which a dead person is laid or buried.) Within the church proper are the last four Stations of the Cross (also called the Via Dolorosa, meaning “Way of Grief”), representing the final episodes of Jesus' Passion (in which he is nailed to the cross, dies, is taken down, and laid in the tomb).

According to historical record, in the second century AD, the Roman emperor Hadrian built a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus in order to disguise the cave in which Jesus had been buried. In 325 AD, the first Christian emperor Constantine the Great ordered that the temple be replaced by a church. However, during the building of the Church, Constantine's mother Helena rediscovered the tomb. Constantine's church was built as two connected churches over the two different holy sites, including a great basilica, an enclosed colonnaded atrium with the traditional site of Golgotha in one corner, and a rotunda that contained the remains of a rock-cut room that was the burial site of Jesus.

Historically, two large, arched doors allowed access to the church. However, only the left entrance is currently accessible because the right door has been bricked up. Just inside the church is a stairway climbing to the site of Jesus' crucifixion (Calvary/Golgotha), the most lavishly decorated part of the church. The exit is via an opposite stairway that leads down to the enclosed cloister. On the ground floor, underneath the Golgotha chapel, are the Chapel of Adam and the Treasury of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which hold many relics including a fragment of the Holy Cross. The raised Chapel of the Calvary (or Golgotha Chapel) contains the top of the Rock of Calvary. It is split into two halves, one Greek Orthodox and one Catholic, each one with its own altar. The rock can be seen under glass on both sides of the altar, and beneath the altar there is a hole in the rock, said to be the place where the cross was raised. The Roman Catholic (Franciscan) Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross stretches south of it. Between the Catholic and the Orthodox altars, there is a statue of Mary, believed to be miraculous. It marks where Jesus' body was removed from the cross and given to his family and disciples. Beneath the Calvary and the two chapels is the Chapel of Adam. According to tradition, Jesus was crucified over the place where Adam's skull was buried. At the crucifixion, the blood of Christ ran down the cross and through the rocks to fill the skull of Adam. The Rock of Calvary appears cracked through a window on the altar wall, with the crack caused by the earthquake that occurred when Jesus died on the cross. Just inside the entrance to the church is the Stone of the Anointing (also called the Stone of Unction), which marks the spot where Jesus' body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea. The wall behind the stone is defined by its striking blue balconies and cross-bearing red banners, and is decorated with lamps. The modern three-part mosaic along the wall depicts the anointing of Jesus' body, preceded on the right by the Descent from the Cross, and succeeded on the left by the Burial of Jesus.

Our next stop was the Muslim Quarter, which is the largest and most populous of the four quarters, extending from the Lions' Gate to the Temple Mount to the Western Wall. It is a mainly commercial area of the Old City, with lots of stalls in the souq (shuk) selling spices, pastries, clothing, leather goods, antiquities, and handicrafts. Some important sites are located here; however, they are inaccessible to non-Muslims most of the time. The Temple Mount holds the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount is a holy site in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and consists of a flat plaza surrounded by retaining walls (including the Western Wall) that was built during the reign of Herod the Great. The plaza is dominated by three monumental structures including the Dome of the Chain (where supposedly a chain once rose to heaven), Dome of the Rock, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as four minarets. People reach the Mount through one of eleven gates, ten of which are reserved for Muslims and only one for non-Muslims. This is the holiest place in Judaism, and the place where Jews turn towards during prayer; however, their access to it is limited. Many Jews will not walk on the mount itself because it is so holy. According to Jewish scripture, the First Temple built by King Solomon (the song of King David) was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, whereas the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Jewish tradition believes that the Third (and final) Temple will be built on this site someday when the Jewish Messiah comes. Jews believe that it is this site on which God’s divine presence is manifested more than any other place on earth. It is from here on the Foundation Stone that the world expanded into its present form and where God gathered the dust used to create Adam. For Muslims, the Temple Mount is the site of three sacred mosques, the holiest sites in Islam. The Dome of the Rock (the gorgeous mosaic-clad gold-domed octagonal Islamic shrine first completed in the 692 AD and then rebuilt in 1023 AD), is one of the oldest existing Islamic structures in the world and occupies the area where the Holy Temple once stood. The al-Aqsa Mosque (with its silver-colored lead dome) faces Mecca; Muslims believe that Muhammad was transported from the Great Mosque of Mecca to al-Aqsa during the Night Journey to heaven, accompanied by the angel Gabriel after he prayed there with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Due to the claims of both Judaism and Islam, the area is one of the most contested religious sites in the world, remaining a major focal point of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Because religious restrictions prevent Jews from entering the most sacred areas of the Temple Mount (they have restricted access but cannot pray or wear religious garb under penalty of arrest), the Western Wall (part of the retaining wall for the Mount) is the holiest accessible site at which Jews can pray. Which is a good transition to the final quarter…

Before we began the remainder of our tour, we stopped for lunch at the Holy Café (also called Coffee Break). Here, we ordered two main dish salads, one eggplant dish, slices of thick bread, and some drinks for a total of $67 USD. We ate outdoors in the main square under cover of trees, in a busy pedestrian courtyard area that offered good views of life passing by.

The Jewish Quarter (also called the Herodian Quarter) stretches from the Zion Gate to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. This area is home to numerous yeshivas (schools) and synagogues, most notably the Hurva Synagogue, destroyed numerous times and rededicated in 2010. The archaeological remains of the section of the Jewish quarter destroyed prior to 1967 has since been rebuilt and are on display in a series of museums and outdoor parks that tourists can visit by descending two or three stories beneath the level of the current city.

First, we visited the excavated cardo maximus, an ancient Roman 70-foot-wide street lined with pillars on each side. The central lane of the cardo was open to the sky so that carriages and animals could pass, and it was flanked on each side by colonnaded covered walkways for pedestrians. Some sections contained covered stalls for merchants and workshops for craftspeople. The cardo began at the Damascus Gate and ran across the city to the Zion Gate.

Then, we went to the indoor Wohl Museum of Archaeology (admission about $5 USD per person), a compound that contains remnants of six houses of ancient well-to-do families preserved at different levels. The remains of these residences show us the wealthy and splendorous way that the aristocratic inhabitants lived in those days. We saw cellars, kitchens, and living rooms adorned with mosaics, embellishments, and mikvahs (ritual baths). The houses were unearthed under layers of ashes from a fire that raged the city shortly after the destruction of the temple. In the first building, we saw bathrooms and mikvahs, which show how important purification was. In a larger and more luxurious house, we saw color ornamentation on the walls, elaborate mosaic floors, and colored pottery, further illustrates the economic prosperity of the time.

Next, we visited the Davidson Center Archaeological Park; admission to this site cost about $8 USD per person. The site contains artifacts from the First and Second Temple periods, the Byzantine Muslim period, the ancient Crusades period, and others. Outdoors, the most exciting findings include the walls of the city from the First Temple period, the steps leading up to the Temple, the original street from the time of the Second Temple period, shops, and ritual baths. The indoor part of the museum contains multimedia presentations including a video about ancient pilgrimages and a virtual 3D model from the Second Temple period.

When we emerged from the Archaeological Park, we temporarily exited the Old City through the Dung Gate (also called the Mughrabi Gate or the Silwan Gate). Once outside, we had good views across the valley to the Mount of Olives, and we could also see the nearby City of David (including some recent excavations) and the steeple of the infamous Saint Peter in Gallicantu (in Latin, the word "gallicantu" means rooster's crow [actually, literally, it means another four-letter word for rooster that rhymes with “rock”, but I wasn’t sure that I could post that word online for fear it would be considered profanity]). It is the place where Peter rejected Jesus three times before the rooster crowed twice. The original church was built in 457 AD but destroyed in 1010, then rebuilt by the Crusaders almost a century later. Today, a golden rooster tops the sanctuary roof in remembrance of its biblical connection.

Afterwards, we saw the Western Wall, sometimes referred to as the Kotel, the Weeping Wall, or the Wailing Wall (the latter two terms are felt to be undignified these days). The Western Wall's holiness in Judaism comes from its proximity to the Temple Mount. Because of the Temple Mount entry restrictions, the Wall is the holiest and closest place where Jews are permitted to pray, though the holiest site in the Jewish faith lies behind it. Visitors don’t have to be Jewish to visit the Wall, but they do have to be dressed modestly and have their heads covered (scarves for women and skullcaps [also called kippahs or yarmulkes] for men). Most visitors write a prayer on a small slip of paper and then insert the note in the wall. Note that men and women cannot visit the wall together; there are separate sides for each of the sexes. The women’s side is much smaller than the men’s and contains chairs and prayer books. Interestingly, devout visitors will not turn their back to the wall when they depart, so they walk backward toward the entrance. We saw something curious when we visited: some boys were celebrating their bat mitzvahs with their male family members near the wall, while their women relatives had to stand on chairs outside of the plaza area to peek over a separation wall at the ceremonies. It seemed a bit sad that a boy’s own mother couldn’t attend the religious initiation ceremony of her own son.

Finally, we walked part of the Via Dolorosa (which means “Sorrowful Way” or “Way of Pain”), the processional route that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. The winding route travels a distance of about 2,000 feet from the former Antonia Fortress (the citadel that protected the Second Temple) near the Lions’ Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The path is marked by nine Stations of the Cross, with the last five stations located inside the Church. The stations and their approximate locations follow.

(1) Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate (although this likely took place at Herod’s Palace, the celebrated site is the location of three early nineteenth century Roman Catholic churches: the Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross, the Church of the Flagellation, and the Church of Ecce Homo.

(2) Jesus carries the cross.

(3) Jesus falls the first time (this site is adjacent to the nineteenth century Polish Catholic Chapel).

(4) Jesus meets his mother Mary (located at a nineteenth century American Catholic oratory named Our Lady of the Spasm).

(5) Simon of Cyrene carries the cross (located adjacent to the Franciscan Chapel of Simon of Cyrene).

(6) Veronica wipes Jesus' face (located at the Church of the Holy Face and Saint Veronica).

(7) Jesus falls the second time (located adjacent to a Franciscan chapel built in 1875 at the junction of the main cardo [the north-south road] and the decumanus [the east-west road]).

(8) The women of Jerusalem weep over Jesus (located adjacent to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Charalampus).

(9) Jesus falls the third time (located at the entrance to the Ethiopian Orthodox Monastery and the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Saint Anthony, which together form the roof of the subterranean Chapel of Saint Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

(10) Jesus is stripped of his garments.

(11) Jesus is nailed to the cross.

(12) Jesus dies on the cross.

(13) Jesus is taken down from the cross (this is the Stone of the Anointing in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

(14) Jesus is placed in the sepulcher.

Later that night, although we had a full day touring, we gathered up our strength to leave the hotel in search of dinner nearby. We ate outdoors (but under cover of an umbrella awning) on the sidewalk terrace of the Caffit Cafe Mamilla (a Kosher dairy restaurant), not more than a 5-minute walk from the Waldorf. For a shared starter (grape leaves), two main dishes (including one enormous plate of fish and chips and Italian meatballs with crusty bread), a shared dessert, and three rounds of drinks, our bill totaled about $100 USD. Indoors, the restaurant has two floors of seating: the street level contains a bar and some tables, with additional tables located on a mezzanine reached by a curved staircase.

Monday, August 27: More Jerusalem Sites

After breakfast at the hotel, we met our guide for a 15-minute drive to Mount Herzl. Also called the Mount of Remembrance, it has been the home of the Israeli national cemetery for prominent leaders and fallen soldiers and servicemen since 1951. It also offers a museum and educational facilities, but regrettably, we did not have time to investigate the Herzl Museum, which our guide said was excellent. The park, which lies beside the Jerusalem Forest, is named after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and his tomb lies at the top of the hill. Besides Herzl, the cemetery is the burial place of five of Israel's prime ministers and presidents including Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin (who is buried beside his wife Leah), and Shimon Peres. Despite the national significance of the cemetery, some Israeli leaders are buried elsewhere, including Menachem Begin (the former prime minister is buried at Mount of Olives) and David Ben-Gurion (the founder of the Israeli state is buried on Kibbutz Sde Boker). All soldiers, regardless of rank or unit, are buried side by side with plain unadorned gravestones that only indicate name, rank, and place and date of birth and death.

Our next stop was only a 5-minute drive away. Established in 1953, Yad Vashem lies near Mount Herzl and contains a 44-acre complex of museums, monuments, and research and educational facilities, including the Holocaust History Museum, Museum of Holocaust Art, Children's Memorial, Hall of Remembrance; various sculptures, and a synagogue. As we walked toward the main museum, we passed by trees with plaques acknowledging the "Righteous Among the Nations", meaning non-Jews who saved Jews during the ongoing genocide of the Holocaust (like Oskar Schindler from Schindler’s List) at great personal risk and without a financial or evangelistic motive. Yad Vashem (which means “a monument and a name”) is a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of the dead, memorializing Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors, honoring Gentiles who selflessly aided Jews in need, and researching the phenomenon of the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general in order to avoid such events in the future. The main museum consists of a long corridor connected to 10 exhibition halls, each dedicated to a different chapter of the Holocaust. The museum combines the personal stories of 90 Holocaust victims and survivors, and presents approximately 2,500 personal items including artwork and letters donated by survivors and others. The old historical displays revolving around anti-Semitism and the rise of Nazism have been replaced by exhibits that focus on the personal stories of Jews killed in the Holocaust. According to the museum's curator and chairman, a visit to the new museum revolves around "looking into the eyes of the individuals”. There weren't six million victims, there were six million individual murders. It was a somber but important visit for us, and we didn’t have nearly enough time to see everything thoroughly. There is no cost to visit Yad Vashem.

Although our visit to Yad Vashem was sobering, afterwards we were ready for lunch, so we drove about 15 minutes to First Station (the repurposed train station venue where we dined a few nights previous), where we had lunch outdoors on the front covered deck of the Landver restaurant. Lunch for three people, including two salads, one lamb-filled pita, lots of bread, and a few rounds of drinks cost $80 USD.

Afterwards, we planned a tour of Bethlehem. Not only did we feel our visit was important historically and religiously, but also because the town where we grew up is also named Bethlehem (with nearby cities also biblically named including Nazareth, Emmaus, Egypt, and a creek called Jordan). Because of governmental restrictions between Israel and the West Bank in Palestine, our Israeli guide was unable to accompany us. Since 1995, former Israeli land has been under the military control of Palestine. However, he dropped us off at the border crossing, where we showed our passports and walked across, to be met on the other site by a local Palestinian guide he had arranged. Unfortunately, the path inside the border/customs/immigration building was not readily apparent to us, and we took some wrong turns in trying to walk through it. When we made it outside, our local Bethlehem guide drove us to a nearby shop, where the owner offered us refreshments while we browsed (we were also able to use their restrooms); we would return to the shop at the end of our tour for the same reason, and so that we could be enticed into buying some souvenirs. Although we didn’t welcome these stops, we felt that we couldn’t refuse.

In biblical times, Bethlehem was inhabited by the Canaanites and was the city in which David was crowned as the King of Israel. It is also known as the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem was destroyed by the Emperor Hadrian during the second century, but Empress Helena (mother of Constantine the Great) began its rebuilding by commissioning the Church of the Nativity in 327 AD. It was subsequently damaged by the Samaritans (obviously not “good” ones!) and then rebuilt in 629 by Emperor Justinian I.

The Old City of Bethlehem consists of eight quarters (including Christian, Muslim, and Syrian) laid out in a mosaic style, forming the area around Manger Square, which takes its name from the manger where Jesus is said to have been born which now resides at the Grotto of the Nativity, enshrined since the fourth century in the Church of the Nativity.

When we were finished with our brief walking/driving tour, our Bethlehem guide dropped us at the border checkpoint, where we walked through immigration and customs to find our Israeli guide waiting with his van to return us to the Waldorf.

After we returned to the hotel, because the weather was so beautiful, we walked to the outdoor Mamilla Mall, where we stopped at the Cafe Rimon Mamila for two rounds of drinks and a shared starter (cauliflower) for about $42 USD. Although pricey, the location was excellent for people-watching.

Later that evening, we ate dinner near the hotel at the elegant 1868 restaurant. We dined outdoors on a protected sort of front patio, where we ate a delicious quality multi-course meal for about $180 USD. Although it was the most expensive meal of our trip, it was the most memorable food and the best service. Particularly unforgettable was the amuse bouche that we received from the chef, which were some spherified olives that arrived perched in a miniature tree. Our meal was a great ending to our last night in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, August 28: Masada, Qasr el Yahud, and Bet She’an

After enjoying our last buffet breakfast at the Waldorf’s Palace restaurant, we packed our bags and checked out. Our first stop was a 30-minute drive away, the Good Samaritan Inn Museum of Mosaics (also called Khan Al-Hatruri Caravanserai). At the ticket kiosk, at the recommendation of our guide, we purchased two 6-park national park passes (about $30 USD per person). According to the Christian scripture, the site was the location of the event described in the "Parable of the Good Samaritan" in the Gospel of Luke. (Jesus tells this story about a traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half-dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. Although Samaritans and Jews despised each other, the Samaritan helped the injured man. Jesus is described as telling the parable in response to the question from a lawyer, "And who is my neighbor?" In response, Jesus tells the parable, the conclusion of which is that the neighbor figure in the parable is the man who shows mercy to the injured man, that is, the Samaritan. Today, the name "Good Samaritan" means someone who helps a stranger, and many hospitals and charitable organizations are named after the Good Samaritan. A local archaeologist discovered that the site had been rebuilt in several historical periods since the fourth century, and in every phase, the site had functioned as a khan, an inn for travelers. In the Byzantine period, a church was also built at the site, suggesting its importance as a pilgrimage site for early Christians. The floor of the church was once a beautiful mosaic of geometric patterns that had largely disappeared in modern times, so the archaeologist and his team restored the mosaic based on early photographs taken before the tiles had disappeared. After the successful restoration of the church's mosaic floor, it was decided to take the project further and create a mosaic museum at the site, which opened in 2010. The museum contains mosaic floors excavated all across the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, and a wing dedicated to the history and customs of the Samaritan.

Back in the car, we drove for more than 1.5 hours to reach Masada, an ancient fortification situated on top of an isolated rock plateau, similar to a mesa. It is located on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Herod the Great built two palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 AD. According to Josephus (an historian), the siege of Masada by Roman troops from 73 to 74 AD, at the end of the First Jewish-Roman War, ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels who were hiding there. The fortress contained storehouses, barracks, an armory, a stepped pool (possibly a mikvah), public baths, a church, a palace, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater. Three narrow, winding paths led from below up to fortified gates. Although some tourists choose to hike the narrow paths leading up to Masada, we took the much easier route and used the cable car (gondola). The base station visitor’s center contains parking, restrooms, gift shop, restaurant, and museum. At the top, restrooms are available, and there are water-bottle filling stations positioned around the site, which can become very hot with the sun beating down on mostly shadeless areas. Masada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

We had the option to stop at the Dead Sea for a swim/float, which we passed on because we had done that from the opposite site in Jordan a few years previously.

Because our next stop was over 1 hour away, we decided to eat lunch first at Cafe Cafe Ein Bokek, where a meal for three people (three sandwiches and three drinks) cost about $58 USD.

After a one-hour drive, we arrived at Qasr el Yahud, the baptismal site of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. In Arabic, the site is called Al-Maghtas (meaning “immersion”), a name that refers to the pilgrimage site on both sides of the river. It is also considered to be the place where the Israelites, led by Joshua son of Nun, crossed the river to enter the Promised Land following the Exodus from Egypt, and where approximately 300 years later, the Prophet Elijah crossed the river in the opposite direction to be taken into heaven by fiery chariots, as witnessed by his disciple Elisha. After 40 years in the desert, the crossing of the river is described as having taken place in a dry river bed, after the God of Israel held back the river’s flow for the convenience of the 12 tribes once the Ark of the Covenant and 12 men had entered the water. This event is considered as being a spiritual baptism for the Children of Israel in the holy water, which symbolizes the transformation from being nomads into sovereigns of their own land. Similarly, the Baptism of Jesus, described in the Gospel of Mark, is seen as a transformation, from which point Jesus ceases his former simple life in Nazareth and begins his public ministry, in which he performs miracles and gathers recognition, but first, we are told in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus too, while fasting, is tested by Satan for 40 days and nights immediately following the baptism. This site was closed from the 1967 Six-Day War until 2011, so an alternate baptismal site called Yardenit was established on the Sea of Galilee, but we are glad that we were able to see this one. Visitors can purchase or rent white robes in which to be baptized. There are locker rooms onsite, as well as a gift shop. An olive grove and a green pastoral landscape create a serene atmosphere.

Then, after another hours’ drive, we arrived in Beit She’an. Because it was only one hour before closing time, we had the entire site to ourselves! Beit She’an, historically known as Scythopolis, has played an important role in history because of its geographical location at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley, controlling access from Jordan and the inland to the coast, as well as from Jerusalem and Jericho to the Galilee. In the Biblical account of the battle of the Israelites against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, the bodies of King Saul and three of his sons were hung on the walls of Beit She'an. In Roman times, Beit She'an was the leading city of the Decapolis, a league of pagan cities. Today’s spectacular ruins include a theatre, cardo (street lined with columns/pillars), and baths. I was so mesmerized by all the architectural ruins surrounding me that I was looking around everywhere but down as I walked, and I took a nasty fall on some uneven terrain; fortunately, nothing was broken but my pride.

After our tour, we drove about 30 minutes to the town of Tiberias, where we would spend the next few nights. We checked into the U Boutique Kinneret Hotel (associated with both Leonardo Hotels and Fattal Hotels). This hotel is perched on the Sea of Galilee and offers a small private beach, outdoor swimming pool, spa, lobby bar, poolside snack bar, and a restaurant. The hotel has 60 rooms in categories of Superior, Deluxe, Deluxe Panorama, Deluxe Balcony, and Executive Panorama. We were assigned room 112, an Executive Panorama room. Our room was about 375 square feet, with a large bathroom (separate bathtub and shower, sink, and a toilet. (Unfortunately, there was always a bad sewer smell in the bathroom that never went away.) Our air-conditioned corner room had a wrap-around balcony, which allowed windows on two sides of the room. The king-size bed was flanked by two nightstands, with a reclining lounge chair nearby. The desk/bureau unit held the TV, along with coffee-making facilities and a minibar. Our room had a weird circular pillar that interrupted the clear-span space; for that reason, we wouldn’t book this particular room category again (although from the photos on the hotel website, not all Executive Panorama rooms have a pillar.) Room decor and furnishings were modern and attractive.

Later that night, we walked to a nearby restaurant called Decks (Lido Pagoda), where we dined outdoors on huge deck that protruded over the sea. We shared a hummus starter, a shared steak, an enormous bowl of fries, and two rounds of drinks for about $116 USD. While we ate, we were treated to some “adult entertainment” on the beach and in the water below us! After dinner, on the way back to the hotel, we walked a little out of our way to a small corner market/convenience store (across from the Scots Hotel) to purchase some snacks and drinks (alcoholic and non-) for our hotel room. It was a 5-minute walk (although not on an even grade) to Decks, and another 5-minute walk (also a bit uphill) to the market.

Wednesday, August 29: Touring the Galilee Region

After breakfast at the hotel, our guide picked us up and we drove about 30 minutes to the lovely town of Rosh Pinna, near the town of Safed. Rosh Pinna was founded in 1882 by thirty families who emigrated from Romania, making it one of the oldest Zionist settlements in Israel. Our guide lived in Rosh Pinna and he wanted us to visit the Nimrod Lookout, a memorial that commemorates 28-year old soldier Nimrod Segev (who lived in Rosh Pinna) and his three-man tank crew who were killed in the Second Lebanon War. Nimrod’s father created this peaceful site, elevated 1640 feet high on a hill overlooking the Hula Valley, the Golan Heights, and the Upper Galilee Mountains. The memorial is an observation terrace surrounded by a garden with benches.

We drove about 10 minutes to the site of the former Nabratein Synagogue, located in a pine forest north of Safed. Naburiya (identical with Nabratein) was a Jewish village in the Galilee during the First and Second Temple periods. The excavated remains of the Naburiya synagogue indicate that it is one of the oldest in the Galilee. The original synagogue was enlarged during the third century and destroyed in the Galilee earthquake of 363 AD. The final, and much larger, synagogue building was constructed in the late sixth century reusing stones from the earlier building. The year of its construction is known from the inscription over the main door, which is now displayed on the campus of the Israel Museum. (We saw the door lintel when we visited the museum a few days prior.) The building stood until 640 AD. The facade was partially reconstructed by the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

After about a 30-minute drive, we arrived on the kibbutz of Sasa, where we made a short stop at Buza Sasa for ice cream (about $10 USD for three single scoops). A kibbutz is a collective community that was traditionally based on agriculture. The first kibbutz, established in 1909, was Degania. Today, farming has been partly replaced by other economic means, including industrial plants and high-tech enterprises. Kibbutzim began as utopian communities, a combination of socialism and Zionism. In 2010 (several years before our visit), there were 270 kibbutz in Israel. Their factories and farms account for 9% of Israel's industrial output, worth $8 billion US, and 40% of its agricultural output, worth over $1.7 billion US. Some kibbutz had also developed substantial high-tech and military industries. For example, in 2010, Kibbutz Sasa, containing some 200 members, generated $850 million in annual revenue from its military-plastics industry. As for the ice cream, one of the co-owners traveled the world, following his dream to learn to make ice cream. Working in various ice cream parlors, he spent time in Florence, Italy. After returning to Israel, he developed a partnership with a man who ran a restaurant, and they opened their shop Buza (which means “ice cream” in Arabic). They use high-quality natural ingredients to make handmade ice cream daily. In their shop, you can watch the process through glass windows.

Back in the car, we drove through some Druze villages (the Druze are an Arabic-speaking ethno-religious group), then about one hour later, we arrived at the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve (also called Banias). Unfortunately, we had forgotten to bring our national park passes, so we had to pay an entrance fee when it should have been included. This site, just north of the Golan Heights, developed around a spring once associated with the Greek god Pan. The spring is the source of the Banias River, one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River. Archaeologists uncovered a shrine dedicated to Pan and related deities. The spring at Banias initially originated in a large cave carved out of a sheer cliff face which was gradually lined with a series of shrines. In its final phase, the site included a temple placed at the mouth of the cave, courtyards for rituals, and niches for statues. It was constructed on an elevated, 260-foot-long natural terrace along the cliff that towered over the north of the city. A four-line inscription at the base of one of the niches relates to Pan and Echo, the mountain nymph, and dates to 87 BC. After looking at the exterior of the cave area, we took a short nature walk along a creek bed, enjoying the cooler temperatures that the heavily foliage provided. At the end, we were rewarded with some architectural ruins, including the remnants of the temple of Pan with its grotto and the remains of the palace of Phillip II/Agrippa II.

We stopped for lunch in Kiryat Motzkin at BarBasar, a sort of high-quality butcher shop/wine shop/cafe run by the son of our guide. It had a tiny 4-person dining counter perched in front of a grill, where Richard’s son cooked us some delicious steak sandwiches. Lunch for three including a few drinks cost about $50 USD.

Finally, we stopped at Mount Bental, which offers great panoramic views of the Golan Heights and even as far as Syria. Mount Bental was the site of a courageous battle fought during Israel’s war for the Golan, held during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. It was one of the largest tank battles ever and was miraculously won by the Israelis with their small force of 160 tanks. The Syrians attacked with 1,500 tanks and 1,000 artillery pieces that were slowly mowed down by the much smaller Israeli force. The Israeli army suffered large casualties however, and by the time the battle was over, only 7 Israeli tanks were operational. After 900 of the Syrian tanks were destroyed, the Syrians turned and fled, leaving the land for the victorious Israelis. Today, to remember the bloody battle, the valley below the mountain, reaching to Mount Hermon, is called the Valley of Tears. The old army bunkers are open to the public, most of them have been completely cleared out, but old beds and batteries can still be seen. In a small room within the bunker, the tale of the battle can be read from signs on the wall, with accompanying maps to help understand the logistics and geography. When emerging from the bunker, a video binocular can be operated for a small fee to see the Israeli-Syrian frontier and the old battlefield now covered over with fields of grain and produce. Mount Bental also boasts a metal sculpture garden created by a Dutch artist and a fun cafe called Coffee Annan (a pun on the name of the former secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan).

After we relaxed at our hotel, we walked to the nearby Scots Hotel for a round of drinks. We had wanted to stay at the Scots, but they weren’t showing any availability until after the cancellation date at the U Boutique had passed. So we had to content ourselves with drinks at their bar, where we spent almost $40 USD for one ridiculously salty margarita and two beers.

On our way to dinner, we bought some bottled iced tea at the Express Tveria grocery store, which was a treat after going without iced tea for so long. We also made our nightly stop at the small Barak market later on for additional drinks. We ate dinner indoors at a restaurant called Little Tiberias, where for about $125 USD we shared a starter (rolled eggplant) and two main dishes (one pasta and one stroganoff), a shared dessert, and a few rounds of drinks.

Thursday, August 30: Another Day Touring the Galilee

After breakfast at the U Boutique Kinneret’s restaurant, our guide picked us up for a short 10-minute drive to Magdala (also known as Migdal in Hebrew or words meaning “Tower of the Fishes” in Aramaic). Magdala was an ancient city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, 3 miles north of Tiberias. It is believed to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene (who is often mistakenly referred to as a prostitute but was more likely Jesus’s only female disciple). Archaeological excavations conducted in 2006 found that the settlement began during the Hellenistic period (between the second and first centuries BC) and ended during the late Roman period (third century AD). Later excavations in 2009 to 2013 uncovered an ancient synagogue, the oldest in the Galilee, and one of the only synagogues from that period found in the entire country. They also found the Magdala stone, which has a seven-branched menorah symbol carved on it, the earliest menorah of that period discovered outside of Jerusalem. We paid about $4 USD per person to walk around the compact site, including the outdoor architectural ruins and a modern church called Duc In Altum after a Bible passage. The spiritual center offers several chapels: the Encounter Chapel (with its original first century floor from a marketplace in the Magdala port), Mosaic Chapels (each of four chapels show a mosaic about the public life of Jesus, including walking on water, fishing, Mary Madalene, and the daughter of Jairus [the only woman Jesus ever raised from the dead]), the Boat Chapel (with its unique boat-shaped altar behind which is a window showing the Sea of Galilee), and the Women’s Atrium (with eight pillars representing women in the Bible like Mary Magdalene and Salome).

Our next stop was the Yigal Allon Center about 5 minutes away in Ginosar. This museum is affectionately called the “Jesus Boat” or “Peter’s Boat” museum after the famous 27-foot-long Galilee Boat on display. A unique, first-century AD vessel recovered from the thick sediment of the Sea of Galilee during a 1986 drought has been painstakingly and ingeniously preserved over a period of 11 years. It was amazing to look at something so recognizable and functional from 2,000 years ago during the time when Jesus and Peter wandered the Galilee. A short film and some small exhibits chronicle the boat's discovery, exhumation, transfer, and conservation. Visitors can also take an optional boat ride out onto the Sea of Galilee in a much more modern boat. We paid about $7 USD per person for admission to the site, which offers restrooms [be sure to get a scannable ticket to gain entry], gift shop, and self-service café (we bought 3 beverages for about $5 USD).

Then, we took a 10-minute drive to the Mount of the Beatitudes, a hill where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount. The location actually has a negative altitude (around 82 feet below sea level, nearly 650 feet above the Sea of Galilee), which makes it one of the lowest summits of the world. The actual location of the Sermon on the Mount is uncertain, but the present location (also known as Mount Eremos) has been commemorated for more than 1,600 years. Today, the site includes the Church of the Beatitudes, a Roman Catholic Franciscan chapel built in 1938. Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at the site in March 2000. The current church sits uphill from the ruins of a small Byzantine-era church from the late fourth century, which contains a rock-cut cistern beneath it and the remains of a small monastery to its southeast. The floor plan of the modern church is octagonal, with each of the eight sides representing one of the eight Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are blessings recounted by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount and include messages for the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, those pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted because of righteousness; the moral is that they will all be rewarded in Heaven. The church is Neo-Byzantine in style with a marble veneer casing the lower interior walls and gold mosaic in the dome. Around the altar are mosaic symbols on the pavement representing the seven Christian virtues, four classic cardinal virtues of Justice, Prudence, Fortitude (or Courage), and Temperance, and three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

We got back in the car for a quick 5-minute drive to Tabgha Monastery, one of the few sites where we had to pay to park (about $3 USD). Tabgha (which means “spring of seven”) is traditionally accepted as the place of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus after his crucifixion. The earliest building at Tabgha was a small chapel built around 350 AD by Joseph of Tiberias, the Jewish convert to Christianity. After his conversion, Emperor Constantine gave him the rank of count and granted him permission to build churches in the Galilee, specifically in Jewish towns that didn't yet have a Christian community. A bigger shrine was built in 486 AD by an Egyptian who covered the floor with a beautiful Nile mosaic. The mosaic of the fish and loaves is laid next to a large rock, which has caused some New Testament scholars to speculate that the builders of the original church believed that Jesus stood on this rock when he blessed the fish and loaves just before the feeding of the crowd who had come to hear him. Today, the church is known as the Church of Multiplication.

Our next drive was much longer (about one hour) to Mount Tabor, where we visited the Church of Transfiguration. The site is where the Transfiguration of Christ took place, an event in the Gospels in which Jesus is radiantly transfigured upon a mountain and speaks with Moses and Elijah and is called “Son” by God. The current church, part of a Franciscan monastery complex completed in 1924, was on the ruins of an ancient (fourth-to-sixth-century) Byzantine church and a 12th-century church of the Crusader Kingdom period. The church contains three grottoes, also called tabernacles or chapels, which represent the three huts which Peter desired to build, one for his Master (Jesus) and the other two for Moses and Elijah. The Grotto of Christ is in the eastern part of the church. Steps lead down to a lower level containing a sanctuary roofed with a modern vault. The Chapel of Elijah is located in the south tower, whereas the north tower holds the Chapel of Moses. In the upper part of the church is a mosaic on a gold background representing the transfiguration.

We drove for another hour around the perimeter of the Sea of Galilee, finally stopping for lunch at the Ein Gev Fish Restaurant. It was here that we got to try the famous St. Peter’s Fish that we had heard about. (In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells Peter to go fishing in the Galilee, because the first fish he’d catch would have a silver shekel in it, which Peter could use to pay the Temple tax. Peter followed Christ’s instructions, and indeed, the fish he caught had a shekel in its mouth. According to legend, the fish Peter caught was a kind of tilapia, which is now served by restaurants all around the lake.) We ordered one whole fish (head and all) and two filleted fish, each of which was accompanied by a side dish (we chose freekeh [wheat] and peas, boiled potatoes, and French fries). A plate of dates was delivered with our bill, which came to about $110 USD for the three of us, including a few beverages.

After lunch, we drove about 30 minutes to our last stop of the day in Capernaum, another site where we had to pay to park (about $1.50 USD). Capernaum was a fishing village with a population of about 1,500. The village was inhabited continuously from the second century BC to the 11th century AD, when it was abandoned sometime before the Crusader conquest. The town is cited in all four gospels, where it was reported to have been the hometown of the tax collector Matthew, and is located not far from Bethsaida, the hometown of the apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus spent time teaching and healing in Capernaum after choosing the town as the center of his public ministry after he left Nazareth. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues with columns and benches built one over the other. A house turned into a church by the Byzantines is believed to have been the home of Saint Peter. After we explored the outdoor ruins (including the remains of an enormous synagogue with its columns and benches), we moved inside to the modern memorial built over the house of St. Peter. The ultra-modern, disk-shaped St. Peter’s Church (also called the Pilgrimage Church of St. Peter in Capernaum) stands on concrete stilts, ensuring visibility through a glass floor to the venerated ancient building. The Franciscan church is dedicated to St. Peter, who Catholics consider the first leader of the church. We walked around the sculpture garden adjacent to the church, stopping to see the bronze piece entitled “Homeless Jesus”, which portrays Jesus as a homeless person, sleeping on a park bench, with his face and hands hidden under a blanket, but with his crucifixion wounds visible on his feet. There’s also a statue of the Saint Peter (which stands majestically in front of the Sea of Galilee) as well as a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi. From the ruins/grounds of the former synagogue, we could see the striking red domes of the Greek Orthodox Monastery in the distance.

Fortunately, after our long day of driving and touring, we were only a 15-minute drive from the hotel. We relaxed a bit in our room, then went out for some drinks at a restaurant called Yali’s Cafe, where we sat in a sort of modular air-conditioned and glass-enclosed side dining room. Three rounds of drinks cost about $30 USD. We ate dinner at a restaurant called Gala Gil, where we dined outdoors on a sort of seaside promenade on an array of starters, two main dishes (one schnitzel and one kebab, both served with potatoes), and some drinks for about $100 USD. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the convenience store/market (across from the Scots hotel), where we bought some drinks (both alcoholic and non-) to enjoy in our room.

Friday, August 31: Sightseeing On the Way from the Galilee to Tel Aviv

After eating a buffet breakfast at the hotel restaurant, we checked out of our room and met our guide for a day of sightseeing on the way to Tel Aviv. Our first stop was about an hour’s drive away in Akko (also called Acre). Akko is a port city on the Mediterranean coast that is known for its well-preserved old city walls. Its Old City has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since the 1990s, large-scale archaeological excavations have preserved ancient sites.

After we parked the car, we walked through the Gan ha-Metsuda Gardens, which allowed us views of the Al-Jazzar Mosque. Known as the “White Mosque” because of its once silvery-white dome that glittered at a great distance it is an excellent example of Ottoman architecture because it incorporates both Byzantine and Persian styles. Some of its fine features include its now-green dome and minaret with a winding staircase of 124 steps.

Next, we visited the Hospitaller Fortress for about a $10 USD per person entrance fee. The Hospitallers were a military, monastic order devoted to caring for the sick in the Holy Land and to maintaining the personal safety of the pilgrims who flocked to the holy sites. The Hospitaller Order, which thrived in Jerusalem during the First Crusader Kingdom (1187 to 1099) transferred its headquarters to Akko during the Second Crusader Kingdom (1291 to 1191). The Hospitallers, who had a quarter there during the First Kingdom, returned to Akko, expanded their headquarters and rebuilt the site, which consisted of two to three floors around a central court as well as underground sections including water reservoirs and a sewage system. Although the entire site has not bee excavated to date, an area of about 54,000 square feet was unearthed, which encompasses the central court and the northern, eastern, and southern wings. (The western wing has yet to be excavated.) Visitors can see the remains of the first floor of the Hospitaller headquarters, since the upper floors were destroyed by the Muslim conqueror and the ravages of time. The Hospitaller quarter houses three main buildings: the headquarters (Knights' Halls); St. John's Church south of the headquarters (now a municipal community center in the Ottoman Saraya House); and the hospital south of the church that is yet to be excavated.

Before we departed Akko, we walked through some of its narrow passageways past some of its bazaar shops to reach the picturesque marina/fishing port. The quaint, tranquil fishing harbor is lined with old fishing boats, dinghies, and yachts and offers excellent views of the city walls.

Our next stop was about 30 minutes away, the gorgeous Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. As we approached from the bottom, we had to content ourselves with what we could see from the car; fortunately, when we reached the top of the hill, we were able to park and walk a short way to a lookout point where we could appreciate the downhill view. Baha’i Gardens (also called the Hanging Gardens of Haifa) are garden terraces arranged around the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel. The design of this UNESCO World Heritage site is meant to represent the first eighteen disciples of Bab in the Baha’i faith. Nine concentric circles provide the main geometry of the eighteen terraces. The gardens were completed in 2001 and extend almost 0.6 mile up the side of Mount Carmel, covering over 2 million square feet of land. The gardens are linked by a set of stairs flanked by twin streams of running water cascading down the mountainside through the steps and terrace bridges. The gardens are a not-to-be-missed site in our opinion.

We drove for another 30 minutes before we reached the city of Caesarea. Before proceeding to the archeological site, we took a brief drive past the city’s Hadrianic aqueduct. The Judaean port of Caesarea had no reliable source of fresh water when construction on the city began around 22 BC, so King Herod commissioned a raised aqueduct to deliver water from the springs near Shuni, about 10 miles northeast. When Hadrian visited Caesarea in 130 AD on his grand tour of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the growth of the city required additional water, so Hadrian commissioned a new aqueduct to be built. This new section doubled its capacity, and the twin parallel aqueducts continued to supply water for 1,200 years.

After we arrived at the ruins in Caesarea, we found that we were ready for lunch, so we found a nice spot outdoors at the Port Kafe Namal Keys. Lunch for three people (three main dish salads, lots of bread, and some drinks) cost about $75 USD.

Caesarea Maritima is the site of one of the most important cities of the Roman World, the capital of the province of Judaea. The city was founded between 22 and 10 BC by Herod the Great as an urban center and harbor on the site of the earlier Straton’s Tower. The city has been populated through the late Roman and Byzantine era. Large-scale archaeological excavations began in the 1950s and continue to this day, conducted by primarily Israeli and American volunteers working under the supervision of archaeologists. Remains from many periods have been uncovered, including a Roman theater, a temple dedicated to the goddess Roma and Emperor Augustus, a hippodrome (a chariot/horse racing stadium) rebuilt in the second century as a more conventional theater, the Tiberieum (a structure honoring the emperor Tiberius where archaeologists found a reused limestone block with an inscription mentioning Pilate, the only archaeological find bearing his name), a boundary wall, and a 200-foot-wide moat protecting the harbor to the south and west. In 2000, Caesarea was added to the tentative UNESCO World Heritage list.

Finished with sightseeing for the day, we made the 45-minute drive to the Hilton Tel Aviv, our home for the next three nights. We did not actually spend three full nights there, but we paid for three nights since our flight left at midnight on the second day, and we wanted to stay in our room as long as possible until we had to leave for the airport.

The Hilton Tel Aviv is located on the Mediterranean Sea in the heart of Independence Park, within an easy walk of shops and restaurants. Hotel amenities include five restaurants and bars (Cafe Med, Yakimono Sushi Bar, Chloelys, Lobby Lounge, and Pool Bar), fitness center, shops, spa, outdoor saltwater pool, and meeting/event space. Guests staying in specific room levels and some HHonors members have access to the twelfth floor executive lounge, with both indoor and (limited) outdoor space. (Breakfast is served in the morning, with snacks throughout the day, light dairy meals in the evenings, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.) Our room was spacious, with a large bathroom, closet, and refreshment center near the door. The bathroom had a separate standing shower and soaking bathtub, sink vanity, and toilet, with bathrobes, slippers, and AHAVA Dead Sea toiletries provided. (We also received a separate AHAVA welcome amenity kit as Hilton HHonors members.) Although we did not have a suite, our regular room was more of a junior suite setup, with a king-size bed (with a nightstand on either side) and a sitting room area (with sofa, comfortable chair, coffee table, and desk/chair) that led out to a balcony (with chairs so that we could sit and admire the sea view). A complimentary welcome fruit plate, wine, and sparkling water was waiting in the room when we arrived.

After we relaxed at the hotel, we walked to the Barkolit convenience store/market, where we purchased some drinks (alcoholic and non-) and snacks for later in our room. We ate dinner on the sidewalk terrace of the Halevantini restaurant, where we feasted on a complimentary array of starters, including (non-gratis) falafel, followed by two main dishes (one kabob [served with a skewered onion, tomato, and one extremely painfully spicy hot pepper!] and one turkey shwarma, both with fries), plus some drinks for about $70 USD.

Saturday, September 1: Sightseeing in Jerusalem

After a buffet breakfast in the Hilton’s Café Med restaurant (which we thought was complimentary for us as Hilton HHonors Diamond members but later found out was not), we took a 10-minute taxi ride to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The museum was first established in 1932 at another location, but moved to its present spot in 1971. Today, it houses a collection of classical and contemporary art (with an emphasis on Israeli art), a sculpture garden, gift shop, and restaurant. We are not familiar with Israeli art, so we were happy to find more familiar paintings by van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Klimt, Kandinsky, and Pollock. We also enjoyed a small rotating exhibit based on the Lewis Carroll book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Admission was about $11 USD per person.

Afterward, we walked about 10 minutes to Sarona, where we took an al fresco break at the Molly Bloom pub (about $10 USD for two rounds of drinks). From their sidewalk terrace, we could see a lovely koi pond with water lillies, as well as a small park where dancers seemed to be practicing for some type of flash-mob performance. After we finished our drinks, we walked through the interesting Sarona Food Mall/Market, an indoor emporium with 90+ international vendors of prepared foods and groceries.

Then, we walked down Dizengoff Street until it met Rothschild so that we could stroll through the Bauhaus District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tel Aviv is nicknamed the “White City” because it has over 4,000 buildings built in a unique 1930s style called Bauhaus. Although many of the buildings from this period have been neglected, over 1,500 more are slated for preservation and restoration. Traditional Bauhaus architecture had to be adapted to suit the extremes of the Mediterranean desert climate. White and light colors are used because they reflect the heat. Walls not only provide privacy but also protect against the sun. Traditionally large areas of glass that let in the light are replaced with small recessed windows that limit the heat and glare. Long, narrow balconies, each shaded by the balcony above it, allow residents to catch the breeze blowing in from the sea to the west. Pitched roofs are replaced with flat ones, providing a common area where residents can socialize in the cool evenings. Buildings are raised on pillars that allow the wind to blow under and cool the apartments, as well as providing a play area for children. Despite the innovative design features, the buildings were still unbearably hot, so residents frequented small parks, coffee shops, and restaurants, creating a cafe culture. We stopped for drinks at a few of these cafes along the way.

We finished our walking tour with lunch at the Pronto Opera Italian restaurant on their outdoor sidewalk terrace, where we spent about $78 USD for one shared starter (asparagus ravioli), one shared main dish (kale risotto), and two rounds of drinks. The portions were small, and the prices were high, but the quality was excellent. While we dined, we admired the nearby 1970s Nahum Gutman Fountain, with its colorful mosaics that describe 4,000 years of Tel Aviv history.

We took a 10-minute taxi ride back to the area near the Hilton, stopping at the Amalia Market to pick up some drinks and snacks to enjoy in our room. Later that night, we ate dinner at Barbunia restaurant, where we enjoyed a meal that included an array of starters, two fried fish dishes, dessert, and drinks for about $100 USD.

Sunday, September 2: More Sightseeing in Jerusalem Before Our Flight Home

After we ate a buffet breakfast at the hotel restaurant, we had a full day available for sightseeing in Tel Aviv because our flight did not depart until almost midnight. We took a 15-minute taxi ride to Jaffa (also called Yafo, Yafa, or Joppa, depending on your language). This ancient port area is famous for its biblical associations (stories of Jonah, Solomon, and Saint Peter) as well as the mythological story of Andromeda and Perseus. We saw its Clock Tower (a 100-year-old limestone column built to honor the Ottoman reign in Palestine) and a few other structures before walking through its famous flea market and narrow whitewashed passageways. We stopped at the Allora restaurant for two rounds of al fresco drinks (about $30 USD). We also visited the Carmel Market (established in the 1920s, it sells mostly food but also home accessories and flowers) as well as the Levinsky Market (a 1930s Greek and Persian market area that sells spices, nuts, and dried fruits) before stopping for lunch at the Landver restaurant (about $68 USD for one salad, one pasta, and some drinks). Back at the Hilton, we walked down the steep paved seaside walk to the Hilton Bay Club (no relation to the hotel other) for some drinks at their beachside cafe. When we returned to the hotel, we visited the executive/club lounge to eat a light dinner.

After relaxing in our room and packing our bags, it was time to check out and go to the airport. When we received our final bill from the front desk, we were dismayed to find that our breakfasts at Café Med were not included as a complimentary amenity for Hilton HHonors Diamond members. We were told that the only gratis breakfast available to us was in the executive lounge, and that we would have to pay for the other breakfast. We really felt duped by the hotel, and it was a terrible way to end an otherwise great stay.

We took a taxi (about $50 USD) the 12 miles from the Hilton to Terminal T3 at Ben Gurion Airport. Our non-stop Delta flight number 467 on an Airbus A330-300 departed Tel Aviv at 11:55pm, arriving back at JFK’s Terminal 4 almost 12.5 hours later at 5:05am. The driver from our car service met us at baggage claim, and drove us approximately 3 hours to our home in Pennsylvania.

Conclusion

We really enjoyed our trip to Israel, although we feel like we only scratched the surface with our time there. There are so many more historical, religious, and archaeological sites that we would like to have seen. Hopefully we can return someday!
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Old Apr 24th, 2020, 06:51 AM
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WOW! I don't think I've ever seen such a detailed report!
It brought back many memories from our trip to Israel.
Thanks for sharing.
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Old Apr 24th, 2020, 09:39 AM
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I will read this in stages. I got up to Aug. 25th and yes I too would have been peeved if I was mocked by a hotel clerk for anything especially such a valid question. I hope the rest of your stay there provided the service one would expect.
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Old Apr 25th, 2020, 09:01 AM
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Ok so read about the 25th. You are taking me back to our time there.

We had licensed guides too and they add a world of difference to your experience, a font of knowledge as you said.

As we were on a cruise we did not get a chance to try an Israeli breakfast unfortunately.

We have had some very good breakfasts in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai so I hope someday we can get back to Israel again. The history is amazing.

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Old Apr 25th, 2020, 10:46 AM
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!

Up to the 26th. I do recall ceramic street signs. Thank you for edifying this. I had a pic of one but much have deleted it from my photo library. Otherwise I'd post it for your perusal.

How fortunate you were to enter the monastery compound.

You are certainly having full days!

It seems to me you could be an Israeli tour guide too as you seem very knowledgable.

Will continue.
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Old Apr 25th, 2020, 10:03 PM
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Great write-up -- well detailed and organized. Long but packed with useful information.

Very impressive you picked up on so many very intricate details about orthodox Judaism. Just a few minor corrections, because you seem like you'd want to know:

- The Kiddush is recited at 2 of the three festive Shabbat meals (Friday dinner, Saturday lunch), and it's over a cup of wine. Also, two loaves of bread are used for each of the 3 festive meals, and a separate blessing over the bread is recited at each of the 3 meals.

- Havdallah is recited using a cup of wine, a candle, and spices -- not 2 loaves of bread.

- Some orthodox Jews do, and some don't, "believe in" the Shabbat elevators that stop in every floor w/o pressing the button. Some still think it's "work" for reasons too complicated to explain here, and it's a subject of much debate.

- Technically, your friend who "keeps kosher" almost certainly does not keep kosher (in the strict sense as defined by orthodox Judaism) if she's eating at your house. "Keeping kosher" requires has many more requirements than not mixing meat and milk and only eating animals properly slaughtered -- cooking in kosher vessels, using kosher utensils, using only ingredients that have kosher certifications, etc. An orthodox Jew would probably say your friend probably eats "kosher style," not kosher.

BTW, 2nd temple was destroyed in 70 AD/CE, not 66. You have as 70 in one place, and 66 in another.


Last edited by Moderator1; Apr 26th, 2020 at 12:32 AM. Reason: deleted unnecessary snark
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Old Apr 26th, 2020, 12:51 AM
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Read about the 27th. Again you are taking me back to our trip. Thank you.

We were moved by Yad Vashem more so than the Holocaust museum in DC.

Similar experience in Bethlehem too as our Israeli guide took us to the gate where we were met by his Palestinian counterpart. Unfortunately all we saw was the Church of the Nativity as the noro virus was beginning to take hold. Perhaps some day we can get back.

Will continue to follow!

Best TR I have seen here!
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Old Apr 26th, 2020, 12:58 AM
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For your perusal:


The spot where Jesus was born

Jesus manger

Yad Vashem
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Old Apr 26th, 2020, 06:56 AM
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Originally Posted by jacketwatch View Post
We were moved by Yad Vashem more so than the Holocaust museum in DC.!
Our visit to Yad Vashem really did me in. I had to sit for a while and just weep uncontrollably.
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Old Apr 26th, 2020, 08:59 AM
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Originally Posted by schmerl View Post
Our visit to Yad Vashem really did me in. I had to sit for a while and just weep uncontrollably.
I understand.

As a sophomore at the uni I had to see Mein Kampf. I was in shock. You see the evils. Never again. Never again.
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Old Apr 26th, 2020, 12:27 PM
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Great reading!
Up to Sept. 1. Yes we too took the cable car to the top of Masada.
I enjoyed reading about all the places we did not have a chance to see though we were in Acre.


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Old Apr 26th, 2020, 03:50 PM
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Just finished.
Thank you for taking the time to post such a thorough report, one that flowed and read easily.
Larry. .
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Old May 1st, 2020, 04:49 PM
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Wow !!!
Thank You much for this great detailed report..

I was there last year and it was a pleasure to read and follow your trip..

As schmerl has said, I too was in tears walking through Yad Vashem.

You did not miss anything by passing on the Dead Sea on the Israel side. Jordan is much much better.

Thank you for the accurate account of The Stations of the Cross.

I too visited the Village of Ein Kerem to see those five churches.

I have a question.

On the section where you give your great account of (Acre (Akko) you stated that

The First Crusade was 1187-1099) , should this not be 1099-1187, same for the Second Crusade

you have (1291-1191), I think this should be 1191-1291 .

I agree the Second Temple was destroyed 70 AD, just a little type error I am sure because you put forth an

Excellent account of your trip with the included history.

Thank You very much taking the time to post this report.

Anyone planning a trip to Israel can do no better than to read this terrific account of a trip to Israel
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