Tom Gaiser, pastor of First Methodist Church and organizer of the group, picked me up soon after 12 on the 6th, we picked up 2 others and headed for Columbus. It was a very windy but sunny day.
We were at the airport in plenty of time but others from the group were there before us. The travel agency, Educational Opportunities, had routed us to Newark and then to shuttle to Kennedy for the trip to Tel Aviv. There was a delay listed for our flight and we learned they were having severe storms on the eat coast which even necessitated closing the airports for a time. As a result, instead of leaving at 5, we left at 11! A woman from our group whose husband had been in TX at a medical mtg. and then flew to JFK kept in touch about what he was being told about our international flight. It kept changing! We got to Newark at 12:30 am, were met by an EO representative and were told to get on the bus and head for JFK as they were holding the flight for us. He said our luggage would catch up with us in a day or so. Security folks were waiting for us and we were quickly thro' and boarding the plane. We left at 2:30 am instead of the planned 11:30 Sun. pm. departure. I was in the middle of 3 seats and it almost took a crane to get me out! The flight was smooth but there were no compliments on the food! We got to Tel Aviv at 7:30 pm, filled out lost luggage forms, got on a bus with our guide, Monzur and headed for Jerusalem. As we approached, "The Holy City" was played..how fitting. The Olive Tree Hotel was our base for several days and served good food and had comfortable rooms.
Tues. we, the aqua group, got on a bus and went to Haas Promenade to get an overview of Jerusalem...beautiful! All the days we were there were sunny. It wasn't quite as warm as I'd expected but was very pleasant . Bethlehem was our next stop where we went to the Nativity Church and St. Jerome's, the supposed site of the birth of Jesus. It was a beautiful and sacred spot.
The peddlers met us when we got off the bus with postcards, headdresses, olive wood nativity scenes to sell. Later we went to a gift shop (one of several) for quite a long stop. The wall separating the Israelis from the Palestinians was in the process of being built nearby. Some know it as the aparheid wall. Ugh! We had our first $5 lunch--soup, small plates of salads to serve the whole table, pita bread and fruit.
The Shepherd's Field was next on our itinerary. There was a beautiful church there with 3 murals depicting the birth of Jesus. We had devotions and sang "Silent Night". From there, we bussed to Jericho..quite a distance..so it was almost dark by the time we got there. We were directed to the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was said to have been tempted by the devil. We saw the ruins of the walls after they came tumblin' down. Of course there was a gift shop and people selling dates and other produce. We returned to the Olive Tree for dinner and the night.
On Wed. we retraced our path of the previous eve going to Qumram, site of the Dead Sea Scroll discovery in 1947. We saw a movie about the Essenes who copied ancient manuscripts 2000 years ago (portions of the Old Testament, except Esther, have been found along with the apocrypha),. They were a celibate sect who believed in ritual purification bathing and there were many sites of cisterns and dams forming these baths. Unlike Jesus, they were exclusive and focused on the end of days. They put the manuscripts in earthenware jars and hid them.
We also visited Beit Shean, a reconstructed city which is a national museum. ..lots of ruins! From there we went to a kibbutz which featured St. Peter's fish. Lunch there was similar except for the addition of fish or pizza. At the Mount of the Beatitudes, Linda Nanninga led devotions in a lovely church there..in the round. The view was spectacular. We travelled on to a museum where there was a boat retrieved after a long time under water..too brief a stop. A boat was waiting to take us to Tiberias on the Sea of Gallilee. It was crowded and noisy but part way across, the motor was cut and we sat in silence, imagining the scene as it might have been in Jesus' day. We did some singing before continuing. From the boat, we walked to the Jordon River Hotel. There was a huge crowd for dinner and plenty to eat but rather unorganized! Afterward, Betty, Ben, Lee, Ralph and Natalie and I were shopping (still no luggaglilee and a stop at the Church of Primacy of St. Peter. There were 7 springs there and there still are a few. This is where Jesus was said to ask Peter, "Do you love me?" three times. We stopped in Cana and then on to Nazareth..a city of 800 at the time of Joseph and Mary and now 80,000. It is the largest Christian city in Israel (only 2% of the population in Israel is Christian). From the bus we walked a distance to two churches with lots of murals, one from each country. We noticed lots of containers on tops of building and that's how they heat water! A lot of citrus, cotton and tobacco are grown in the countryside.
We stopped at the Jordan River and some were rebaptized by immersion (Tom and Linda) while others were sprinkled (Ben). Armageddon is predicted to take place at Megiddo. There were many displays and a movie there. Those who wanted to went down to a tunnel where water supplied the town. We got to Caesarea Phillippi on the Red Sea and had a tour there before it became dark. Josephus told of an aquaduct 3 1/2 miles long which was built and took a year to do so. We headed back to the Olive Tree for dinner and the night.
On the 11th, Friday, we bussed to the Mount of Olives for a good view of the Dome of the Rock. That's where the original temples were but the Muslims built the Dome after the temples were destroyed. It was a special day for the Muslims with thousands going to the Dome so it was very crowded.
From the Mt. of Olives, we visited the Garden of Gethsemane (olive press), the Church of Ascension, a domed octagonal building containing a stone with the impression of a footstep said to be made by Jesus (and where Jesus was said to have ascended into heaven), The Pater Noster (Our Father) Church where the Lord's prayer is displayed in 142 languages. The Dominus Flavit is built in the shape of a t ear and is said to be the location where Jesus wept as he foresaw the doom of Jerusalem. In that same area is the Russian church of Mary Magdala which has onion domes and turrets of gold. We also visited the Basilica of the Agony (All Nations) Church which was built in 1924. The front features 12 columns representing the disciples, statues of the 4 apostles and a mural done in mosaic with God and Jesus...Jesus being the mediator between God and people. On the left were rulers who thought they were wise but in reality were ignorant and on the right the poor coming to Jesus.
Temple Mount is known as the site where God formed man and where Abraham bound Isaac (location may vary on sacred sites!!).
We went to the church of St. Peter where Peter's denial was said to have taken place. We also went to the house of Caiaphas where there was a model of Jerusalem and the guide pointed out where Jesus was arrested, taken to Herod, Caiphas, kept overnight in a dungeon there. We walked the flight of stairs believed to have been walked by Jesus on his way to be tried by Caiphas.
On Saturday there was an optional trip to Masada which most of the group chose. Some went to the Israeli Museum. Janet Sorrells and I walked to the nearby American Colony Hotel where journalists following events in Jerusalem stay. They had interesting displays and a gift shop stuffed with expensive items! Betty's friend, Debbie, came from Tel Aviv to give us an Israeli perspective on the situation in Israel.
A strenuous day awaited us on Sun. We must've walked a guzillion steps! Only once did we see an elevator during our stay, aside from the airport and hotels. We entered the Old City by the Dung Gate and went to the Western wall (weeping)....separate areas for men and women (Womens' much smaller!). People put slips of paper in the cracks in the wall with prayer requests. We walked the Via Dolorosa (the way of the cross) and part of it was through crowded markets. We stopped at most of the 14 stops. Aside from lunch at an outdoor cafe where we had sandwiches, we were on the move all day. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of St. Anne (Mary's mother). Back to the Olive Tree for dinner and to rest up!
Our morning destination on Monday was the Holacaust Museum (Yad Vashem). We heard tht Clinton was in town and wondered if he'd come there and we'd get kicked out but that didn't happen. We were allowed 2 hours there and it wasn't enough time to take it all in...but we tried! There were lots of filmed interviews with survivors and they and the exhibits were so powerful in telling of the cruelty of the Nazi regime as they killed 6,000,000 Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and those with mental and physical defects.
Betty, Linda and I were the last to the bus! There was a quick stop for lunch and then we walked to the garden tomb. The gardem was lovely with trees, flowers and birds singing. We had communion in a closed room with Ben and Tom as celebrants. The wooden cups in which the juice was served were ours to keep as souvenirs. Tom's meditation was on things "too good to be true". We then went to the tomb in which Jesus may have been buried.
When we got back to the hotel, Pat, Kay and I then walked some distance to an area of shops owned by Arabs. We did lots of looking and I was regretful that I didn't purchase some shoes and a "shrug". On the way back to the hotel, I bought a silver Jerusalem cross with chain. That evening, those not going on to Egypt left for the airport and we said our goodbyes.
Monzer went with us on Tues., the 15th as we headed for Egypt. We skirted the Dead Sea for quite a distance (same route as to Masada) and at a stop, I put my hand in (oily feeling). I got a straw hat there. We were stuffed into a little van with lots of luggage! It was afternoon when we got to the border at Taba, Egypt and the crossing took awhile! Harry was our new guide and Abraham our driver.. We saw many unfinished hotels along the Red Sea, the Egyptian Riviera. Tournists aren't coming because of the unrest so they've never been finished. There wasn't much to see as we travelled in the Sinai (still in Asia). Abraham drove right along! (I asked what the speed limit was and it seemed likely he was exceeding it!). We arrived at Morgenland Village at St. Catherine in the dark. For just one overnight Betty and I chose to just take our overnight bags. The rooms were quite rustic and cold...and were inhabitated by mosquitos! We'd been warned not to drink juice or eat salads while we were in Egypt but some of us lived dangerously! The food wasn't great but there was plenty to eat. There were several shops in the area so shopping was done in the eve. It was a remote area and I was glad noone needed to call 911!!
In order to go to the summit of Mt. Sinai, it was necessary to get up at 1:30, bus to the base, hire a camel and owner or walk. Fran Albritton from the red group borrowed my flashlight so it made it to the summit on Wed. Nov. 16th! He reported that there were hundreds going to the top and he was afraid his camel would trample some of them! He rode 3/4 of the way up on the camel and walked the last 800 steps (said to be very uneven). He was at the summit 1/2 hour before sunrise and got some photos. Those of us who didn't climb had breakfast and then bussed to St. Catherine monastery. Station wagons and camels were available to take us the 3/4 to 1 mile there and I rode a camel! I paid $3 and found someone from our group who paid the same amount to ride down. There were many people waiting to get in to the church and, when we got there, it was quite beautiful. There were many chandeliers and incense burners hanging from the ceiling. This area was also where Moses saw the burning bush and the well where he met his wife, Zipporah. Leaving there, we headed for Cairo, a city of 16,000,000 with an additional 2,000,000 coming into the city to work each day. We were mostly in desert and the wind was blowing and the little scrub bushes were almost covered with sand. There were occasional acacia trees. We crossed under the Suez canal (now in Africa) and stopped to take some pictures of the ships lined up going through. There were women and children selling jewelry, etc. at little stands. One man from the group had gathered uneaten items from box lunches and gave them to the children when we stopped and he was very popular!! We'd heard about the traffic in Cairo and never got near the middle of town. The outskirts were enough..cars weaving in and out, donkey carts, horses, camels, people along the side of the 4 lane highway waiting for busses. Incredible! We got our first glimpse of the pyramids as we neared our Pyramids Park Hotel. The rooms were lovely and there was a huge outdoor pool which we so much wanted to get into but it was only open from 9 am to sunset. Most of us chose to go to the dinner cruise on the Nile. We had front row eats for the entertainment and the food was quite plentiful and good. Some of us went up to the top deck to admire the full moon. We'd seen it every night since leaving Columbus when it was a crescent (we saw lots of crescents on mosques!!). The music players were too loud but with some Kleenex in our ears, we endured. Two guys with long sticks put on a performance in a very small space. Then a belly dancer took center stage and encouraged women to join her (and get their pictures taken with her so they'd buy them...I didn't!). The last acts were a dwarf whirling dervish, followed by a man. He continually turned during the first part of his act but kept his point of reference (I was sitting directly in front of him and had my head resting on my hand...he did the same thing so was obviously watching). Later he took off his turban and hurled it toward me. I tried to catch it but it was short and didn't reach me. Funny! In the small amount of space he had to work in, he had two large circular pieces of fabric continuously turning! Later he went into the audience and twirled the higher one above peoples' heads. Amazing!
Next day was visit the pyramids day. We rode a long way and saw Joseph's River, and on to Memphis and the Step Pyramid of Sikkara. We also saw a huge stone resting stature and many other statues. Some men were roasting sweet potatoes for sale and Betty got enough so that everyone on the bus could sample them! We headed back to Giza where we visited the great pyrmids built for grandfather, father and son ..even more amazing! We saw the Sphinx too before returning to our hotel. There was a lovely dining room there and we had many choices of food for dinner.
On the 18th we left for the Egyptian Museum where our local guide, Osama, pointed our the highlights for us. The King Tut exhibit was the most outstanding and we had a little while on our own to look around. After many stops to shop, we passed up the perfumery and headed back to Taba. We followed a different route which was mostly desert til we were near Taba and there was a giant canyon we passed through. Spectacular! We stayed at the Nelson Village Hilton at Taba Beach and our room had a porch with chairs looking out on the Gulf of Aquaba. There was a very nice restaurant with white tablecloths and napkins but most of us preferred to sit at picnic tables near the water. There was an abundance of food, including meat grilled outside. We discovered a pingpong table before dinner and several enjoyed playing. Afterward we walked to some little shops.
On the 19th, Linda and Fran and I enjoyed some time in the salty Sea of Aquaba. Some schools of small silvery fish did some jumping a distance away from us. Funny! We enjoyed our time in the water and then had a wonderful breakfast before packing up to cross the border.
Monzer was waiting for us and it took quite awhile for us all to clear the border. We headed back to Jerusalem and it was a long, long ride! It was near 6 by the time we arrived and the Arab shops were closed. Linda and I went to a jewelry shop and she got a chalice and i got a ring. After dinner, we headed to Tel Aviv and were there by 9. It was 11:30 by the time we got to our gate. Some security!
Our return flight was also smooth and I had an aisle seat this time. We got to JFK just a little late so, by the time we shuttled back to Newark (this time we got to see the middle of NYC!), our connections were tight. We got on our plane to Columbus and were back to reality. Ralph got an extra pack of pretzels because it was his birthday!!
Tom, Ron and Judy Hartley got our luggage, got in Tom's van and were back in BG shortly after 3. Home, sweet home...no place like it!!