Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Our Holy Land Highlights Tour ~ a few tales from the trail

Our time in the Israel was an amazing experience and I know that words could never describe what we saw and felt.  Nor will my photos do justice!  Since I have no idea where to begin...I thought I would just share a bit of this and that today and then do a few posts in a more systematic way later.

First of all...let me just say that we never felt unsafe at any time!  If for any reason there were security alerts in an area...our tour guide would not take us there.We did not visit the city of Jericho or stop at the lookout on the Mt. of Olives for that reason.  With the heavy security at the airport and along all the borders...I'm thinking that Israel might just be one of the safest places to visit!

We began our visit to Israel with a few days of touring in and around Jerusalem.  This photo was taken from a viewpoint on Mt. Scopus...east of the city and right next to the Mt. of Olives.  I'll give you a tour of this historic old city one day soon.

Let me go back and tell you how this trip came about.  It was not like we were planning on going to Israel anytime soon...it was not really even on our bucket list.  But one day a few months ago I found myself in waiting room of the hair salon...and opened an e-mail from Travel Zoo just to pass the time.  Their feature that day was a a Holy Land Highlights tour leaving from Toronto...at a very good price. I went home and shared it with my hubby...who said, 'Let's go'.  We contacted our good friends who have traveled with us many times in the past to see if they would be interested in joining us...and within a few days we had all booked a trip to the Holy Land over Easter.

We have traveled with Dave and Janet many times over the past four decades!  Our first trip together was a missions trip to Guadeloupe, Dominican Republic and Haiti when we were newly married.  Since then we have been to Florida, California, Hawaii, England, France, Kenya and China together. We have many wonderful shared memories from over the years!  We so enjoyed our time together with them in Israel...good laughs and good discussions!

The night we arrived in Jerusalem we headed straight for the Mahane Yehuda Market...just blocks from our hotel. It is Israel's most sprawling market place with more than 250 vendors (wares, produce and restaurants)....and attracts both tourists and locals. 

I had to take a photo of this particular 'shop'...featuring halvah in every size, shape, form and flavour!  We sampled several varieties...all were most yummy!  Halvah takes me back to the Christmas of my childhood...where it was always a staple with the Christmas goodies at our home.  It was purchased in a 9 x 12 tin...and  was always vanilla flavoured.  In Israel it is a confection year-round...found on our buffet tables at breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

After a good night's sleep (LOL)...we met up with the rest of our tour group and our wonderful guide, Orna.  Orna is Israeli (a secular Jew) who grew up in TelAviv, spent some time in Canada as a young adult and had a wealth of information to share with us.  The rest of our group was made up fellow Canadians from Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto...as well as some Americans, a couple from Iceland, one from the Netherlands, and some from China.  They were a great bunch to travel with!

Of course we visited  the 'Wailing Wall' in the Old City...where Jews gather three times daily to pray and tourists come to observe.  To enter the square we were required to pass through a security check...and modest dress was required (as at all holy sites).  Some 15,000 people gather here daily!  I should mention that off to one side is a smaller courtyard for the women. Since Jewish law does not require the women to pray...it is mostly men who gather here.

One of my favorite places to visit was the Garden of Gethsemane with its ancient olive trees...most meaningful to be there at Easter!

I pulled out my camera quickly when I saw a herd of goats being driven down a main road by a young goatherd.  He saw my camera...forgot about his goats...and came to see if my photo was worth a few shekels to me!  

I don't have many good photos of the Israeli countryside that we sailed through on a tour bus...since the driver was not nearly as interested in stopping for photo-ops as my driver back home is. :)   But I had to capture the image of a shepherd watching his sheep on the hills 'near Bethlehem of Judea'.  It seemed fitting!

I didn't realize that Bethlehem was under Palestinian control...and that to go there one needed to go through major security checkpoints.  Since our tour guide was Israeli she was not able to accompany us to Bethlehem...so she got off before the check-point and would re-join our tour later. A Palestinian Christian tour guide hopped on board once we were through the check-point and took us on a tour of Bethlehem.

Somehow I was expecting a wee village on a hillside...and not an old city with congested streets and traffic issues!

I definitely wasn't expecting Hard Rock Cafe...and had a hard time with rationalizing photos of Yassar Arafat on the same wall as the nativity scene!  We toured the church that is built on the likely site of the nativity...and then visited a gift store operated by the Christians of the area who are finding it hard to earn a living as a result of the political situation these days.  Once an overwhelming majority here...Christians have dwindled to about a third of the population of Bethlehem...and young people continue to leave.  Our heart went out to them!

We traveled through an area north of the Sea of Galilee and passed through  the Golan Heights.  We were right near the Syrian border and could see the former Syrian military headquarters...now sitting on Israeli soil. Our bus driver offered to take the bus up the bumpy drive for a closer look...

...and we soon found ourselves in front of this abandoned bombed-out wreck of a concrete building.  It stands as a reminder that Syria occupied this territory prior to the six-day war of 1967.

Our tour guide asked me to take a photo of her under the crumbling staircase.  She had only been this 'up close and personal' once before and not with a tour bus! It was all rather surreal!

While in the Galilee region we spent two nights at a Kibbutz hotel...where we learned a lot about what Kosher meant in a big hurry!  (Do not bring coffee with milk into the dining room on Shabbat...milk and meat are never served at the same time.)  Now we know!

We visited Beit Shean in northern Israel...'the oldest city in the world'.  It lies at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley ans is home to a protected historic site where we walked through excavations of a beautifully preserved 2000 year old Roman City.

Why does it seem like there is something wrong with this picture...having a McDonald's drive-through restaurant right at the entrance to the archaeological site with its ancient Roman baths?

On the slopes above the northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee our tour guide read the 'beatitudes' to us from Matthew 5.  It was (and is) such a quiet, peaceful setting...this hill where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.

One of my personal highlights was the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.  It was where Jesus and his disciples spent so much time...and not somewhere I ever expected to find myself!

And here is the group we traveled with while over there...together in a boat on the Sea of Galilee...strangers who became friends.

Another highlight was our stop at the Jordan River where seven people from our group were baptized.  Our tour guide had made arrangements to have a pastor meet our group there to perform the baptism. It was a beautiful ceremony...baptism by immersion right where Jesus was baptized. When the baptismal service was over...we sang 'Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow'. The memories will live on!

Our most capable bus driver...'hanging out' when he wasn't driving!

Kids will be kids...world over!  These two had settled down to a good game of cards on the stairs providing public access at a lovely park.  They were so engrossed in their game...they were oblivious to all who came and went!

We stopped at the Dead Sea...where we chose to watch others frolic or float in the water...or cover themselves in the Dead Sea mud.   (We were flying back to Canada later that night and really didn't want to bring any unwanted mud home with us!) It is over 1400 feet below sea level and 10 times as salty as sea water...making it impossible to sustain life of any kind.  In the Bible...it was a place of refuge for King David.  It was also the site of one of the world's first health resorts (for Herod the Great).  Products of the Dead Sea are sold around the world...including fertilizers and beauty products. 

High above the Dead Sea is the Masada fortress!  The Kenyan who joined us up there looked quite striking in his Masai wrap.

Masada...we went by cable-car to the mountain top fortress where the Zealots made their last stand against the Romans in 73 AD.  It became Herod's mountaintop palace at the end of the first century...and many remnants of that are still visible today.  It is also a United Nations World Heritage Site...for good reason!

I'll leave you with one last image...where the Mediterranean Sea meets the city of TelAviv.  It's where we began an ended our Israeli adventure!

There are many more stories waiting to be told...but this post is quite long enough already.   Let me just conclude with this...to be in the Holy Land over Easter and walk the same paths that Jesus walked was an amazing and inspiring experience!


  1. Fascinating! Did they turn you and your coffee away? I smiled to see the salty sea that in some future day will be clean and filled with life. So much to see! So much to share! (No pressure)

    1. They definitely turned 'us' away with our coffee! I sat at a table in the dining room with our dessert...while Elmer went to get coffee from the lounge. (Is it even possible to have dessert without coffee?) Three men stopped him at the entrance to the dining room...questioned him as to whether he understood 'kosher' at all...and informed him that no milk was allowed in the dining room. We took our desserts to the lounge and enjoyed them there...with the coffee, of course! And now we know a little more about what is kosher!

  2. WOW!! What an experience! You have, again, captured some wonderful pictures and I enjoyed your narrative along with them. To be in some of the exact places Jesus walked and shared his life would be so amazing!! So sad that we cannot see it without all the "modernization" that has taken away from the countryside . So happy that your hubby jumped on board and that you were able to find yourself in a very meaningful place at Easter. Oh! love your colorful tulip shot for your blog header!! Have a great day!

  3. What a wonderful experience that must have been, unforgettable.

  4. Judy, your photos and details of your visit to the Holy Land gave me goose bumps as I read along. What a trip! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Pam

  5. Did you get baptized again? Bernie was baptized as a new Christian during his trip to Israel. Most of his group (a seminary class) got re-baptized there.

  6. So fascinating and amazing. A perfect time to year to go. I'm looking forward to seeing and learning from more of your posts, too.

  7. Marvelous, Judy, looks like the tour took you to some of the best highlights. Seeing your photos brought back wonderful memories for me. Can't wait to see and read more about it!

  8. What a beautiful tour Judy! Thank you for sharing this with all of us in such a meaningful way. Having just heard a message on Psalm 23 makes this post even more touching to me. I've never thought about going but now.. maybe.

  9. Wow, this is amazing, your words bring life to the pictures. In part, I feel I walked with you. Thanks. Martha

  10. What perfect timing for a Holy Land tour! We felt the same intense security measures when we were there and felt completely safe. Tourmagination, a local Mennonite tour organization, arranged our tour and can be highly recommended. The favourite part of our tour was participating in the Olive harvest at Nazareth Village! So great that you were able to experience the Masada Fortress - we missed that part. Wonderful to have life long friends as your travel buddies! Enjoyed this post very much.

  11. It's been a long time since I visited the Holy Land, but your photos brought it all back to me. It looks like it was a wonderful trip, with congenial company - and that makes a big difference in one's enjoyment. I remember the moment of hearing the first words of the Beatitudes read in their 'home'. Thank you for taking me back.

  12. What an amazing experience for you! I love the sheep on the hillside just like you'd imagine when Jesus was born. Too bad there's been so much strife around this beautiful place where the Prince of Peace was born. This is a trip on our bucket list.

  13. Oh gosh what a wonderful journey you have been on! So glad for you and that you had such an interesting and enjoyable time. As you said, very special to be there at Easter. xx

  14. Great job documenting and sharing your trip. I especially liked the market pictures and now I would like to have some halvah. It sounds like an amazing adventure.

  15. I can well imagine how special this trip was especially over Easter. Your pictures and documenting are so well done. The garden of Gethsemane is most beautiful. Wouldn't it have been neat to walk that hillside with the shepherd! I smiled at the sheep on the road. That boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and also the Jordan River...what a wonderful experience for you all. So much to absorb in such a short time. Looking forward to your future posts.

  16. These are great photos and how nice you have friends you have traveled a lot with over the years. I visited Israel too, and saw camel races outside of Jericho, and visited Mount Olives among other wonderful sights.

  17. I have never visited Israel, so my detailed and so well documented trip today, was most enjoyable! Judy, you have a way of providing your readers with the details we most would enjoy having shared. Your pictures were amazing! You visited places I've read about often, and the fact that you were on the Sea of Galilee in a boat, was so interesting! I thoroughly enjoyed every minute here, especially with a hot cup of coffee in front of me. Thank you so much for sharing it all with your readers. I am still smiling at how you so perfectly captured the "bird's eye view" of the city. It all makes me want to book a trip to Israel.

  18. What a wonderful experience for you, and for me, to "see" the Holy Land through your eyes. To hear the Beatitudes read on the hillside would add layers of meaning to them. I read your reply to the comment about milk in the dining room - kosher is serious business, it seems!

  19. So beautiful and fascinating, Judy! So wonderful to be in the place Jesus was born, lived, was baptized and suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane! I'm sure the memories of this trip will bring you much inspiration for the rest of your life

    PS: I know the kosher laws -- again, living in Brooklyn, NY most my life i had many Jewish friends and neighbors. It is a serious offense to mix dairy and meat, and pork and shellfish are not allowed to be consumed.

    I also love Halvah---my mother always served it as a treat on holidays.

  20. Gorgeous and fascinating, and it is so much fun to see what McDonald's look like in different parts of the world!


'The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.'
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson