Friday, January 2, 2009

The 2 views

I just realised that I had made a post while I was in Jerusalem. I'll just leave it on the blog as a record of my feelings while in the City

The Old Jerusalem

I'm finally able to complete the posts on my trip to Israel. These are the photos from Jerusalem, the serene and the chaotic. Our first view of the old city (and the tombs in the foregound) was from the Mt of Olives. The Dome of the Rock dominated the scene with its pure gold dome, standing on the place where the last Temple stood. There is nothing left of this Temple except the supporting wall of the mount on which it stood. It is now called the "Western Wall" or "Wailing Wall". In addition to quiet petitions being inserted in the Wall, there are also noisy and happy Bar Mitzvahs being celebrated here.
One of my favorite spots is the Garden of Gethsamane, full of old Olive trees. Like at all historic sites, there is an ornate church here. I preferred staying outdoors. We next went to Mt Zion where there are many commemorative sites, like the church commemorating Peter's denial of Jesus, the church where Mary, the mother of Jesus "fell asleep", the Upper Room, King David's tomb.
On the second day of our stay in Jerusalem, we went on a walking tour of the city, of course beginning with a visit to the Dome of the Rock. As there was really no Christian or Jewish edifice to see here, the guides kept us standing there for some time, with long historical comments. It is actually a calm and spacious place, blessed by warm breezes on that day.
We had a lovely Jewish meal in the Kardo restaurant and then embarked on our walk of the Via Dolorosa in reverse, first visiting the site of the final 4 stations, the church of the Holy Sepulchre. What a strange place, with all it's different congregations having their own chapels and paraphernalia. No, I preferred the "Garden Tomb", although probably not the place where Jesus lay. Thanking God that no tomb holds the remains of Jesus, we had a service of Holy Communion here, on this Sabbath day in Jerusalem. Ada and and I tried to go back to the Old City in the afternoon via the Jaffa Gate. I don't even have any photos...the crush was just unbelieveable and we hurried back to the hotel to pack our bags!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Post-Israel musings

Am now in the southern hemisphere and have recovered somewhat from the exertions of the last 2 weeks. I found the tour too hectic. We visited so many places so quickly that there was no time to digest all the information we were fed by the guides, nor process all the sights of the places that we had viewed (sometimes for only 10 minutes!). We also spent an inordinate amount of time shopping. As i am not a shopper, it was all wasted time for me.
That being said, the Singapore guides were excellent and the Jordan and israel guides were very knowledgeable.
We started our journey in Petra, walking 2.5km through the "Siq" (gorge), ending in a gorgeous view of the "Treasury" which is actually a royal tomb. After viewing more tombs of various designs carved into the red rock, we came to the acropolis (town centre) where there is an arena and some remains of Roman roads and columns.
The next day we took 2 hours to get through the checkpoint at the Allenby Bridge and then we encountered the Dead Sea. This was quite a pleasant surprise for me, as I had expected a murky-looking body of water. It was in fact a beautiful blue and a warm breeze wafted all around. We visited the oasis of Ein Gedi, the fortress of Masada, and the caves at Qumran where the dead sea scrolls were found. The colour and texture of the desert landscape and the dried-up bed of the receding Dead Sea were quite awesome.
We then drove north to the Sea of Galilee which I enjoyed best on the tour. We stayed in a Kibbutz hotel which has basic rooms but good food, and a wonderful site right on the Lake. We visited Capernaum and Corazin, 2 excavated cities from Jesus's time, and sailed on the lake as well. I spent a quiet day by the lake on my own while the others went off to the Golan heights. I missed a nice walk in a nature park, but the pace was starting to wear me down then.
A day of many stops brought us finally to Jerusalem. We passed through Mt Tabor, Cana, Nazareth, Mt Carmel, Caeserea in quick succession, leaving a blur of memories.
On our final day of the tour, we drove 45 mins from jerusalem to the Allenby bridge again, met up with our Jordanian guides, Went up to Mt Nebo where Moses viewed the promised land, and then straight to the airport.

I'm already planning for a return visit with a smaller group and a personally designed itinerary.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Today in Jerusalem

This is my 3rd day in Jerusalem and am taking a day off from the tour group's hectic schedule. I'm also having a running nose and would like to have some rest before the long trek home by coach and air to Singapore in 2 days' time.
Although I had the pre-conception that Jerusalem would be congested with tourists and vendors selling souvenirs, my real experience has been none of those. Our first dramatic view of the Old City was from the Mount of Olives on a clear, sunny but cool day. From there we visited the place where Jesus wept and also the Garden of Gethesame. Of all the sites that we've visited, I feel this to be the most authentic. Many sites have churches built on them and the ground where Jesus walked is hundreds of feet underground! We then moved on to Mount Zion to a number of sites there, all not very interesting for me. Yesterday we visited the Temple Mount where a mosque now stands. It is a beautiful building, with the distinctive gold Dome that dominates the Jerusalem skyline. We were not allowed to go inside. Security is quite strict at the entrance of this site and we were encouraged to leave bagpacks in the bus. This was followed by a visit to the Western wall which the guide explained is actually only a retaining wall of the Temple built byKing Herod. But it is the only remaining structure nearest that Temple, so the Jewish people place their petitions and prayers there.
We then visited an archaelogical site showing the excavations of the walls of Herod's Temple. Here we could walk on the actual paving stones of Jesus's time and also walk up the steps to the Temple.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a very strange place. It houses the last 5 "stations of the cross" and is usually mobbed by tourists. Thankfully, yesterday there was time to move around the various sanctuaries peacefully though there was a long queue to get into the site commemorating the tomb. 6 denominations worship here and each one has it's own sanctuary within the whole "Church".
Finally we walked on Via Dolorosa which in this season is a busy street selling daily goods for the residents.
The City is clean and pleasant to stroll in in this cool weather. The Jerusalem stone which one sees in most building gives a very pleasant facade to the whole city.