Thursday, December 15, 2011

Israel - Day 1

The original itinerary was for one night in Haifa, followed by one night ins Ashod, but because of some unrest in Ashod, the Pacific Princess remained in Haifa for two nights.  This did not effect our excursion, since ours included and overnight stay in Jerusalem.  The only request from the ship was if you were going to stay on land to let them know.  But more on this later.
Haifa is a port city, and only recently a cruise destination.  This means the port itself is not very attractive.  But the city itself rises up the slopes of a small mountain.  The most recognizable site is the Baha'i Temples and its gardens, unfortunately our tour did not include this site, but it was visible from the ship.
After meeting in the lounge, our group departed for the bus and the drive to Jerusalem.  The driver navigated the streets of Haifa and we entered onto a highway like any interstate at home.  The trip was about two hours and passed fields, towns and memorials.  On our rest break I sampled fresh made tahini, ground sesame seeds, and a sweetened candy-like version.
Once in Jerusalem, we drove to the Mount of Olives for a view of the Old City.  The view was impressive with the city wall, the Dome of the Rock and many other Biblical sites.  The next stop was the Church of All Nations which is located in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There was a very large crowd waiting to enter the church, but our guide knew the staff and our group was allowed to go in through the exit cutting out an hour's wait in line.  Both of these locations were mentioned multiple times in the New Testament with the travels of Jesus.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient writings in Hebrew of the Bible, found by a Bedouin herder in caves near the Dead Sea, they are housed at the Israel Museum.  In the courtyard of the museum is a 50:1 scale model of Jerusalem in the year 66.  It is amazing in its detail, and some of the structures are still identifiable in the modern city.  Inside the museum is the display of the scrolls along with the history of their discovery.  The original clay jars from the first scrolls discovered are also on display.  The scrolls are arranged around the outside of the display area and in a circular center section.  A short stroll through the sculpture garden then back on the bus.
Due to urban sprawl, the city of Jerusalem and the town of Bethlehem run together.  I had always thought they were farther apart then the approximately 5 miles.  We went in the church that was built over the site believed to be the manger where Jesus was born.  There was a service in progress and the line to the 'grotto' was extremely long, so our resourceful guide took up around so we could glance in.  Lunch at a restaurant wa included.  It consisted of the local cuisine and  some items to appeal to American tastes.

Back in the Old City, we wandered through the narrow alleys lined with shops to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher  built on the site of the Crucifixion and the Tomb of Jesus.  The  church was dark and imposing in the deepening night.  Once inside we climbed to the chapel believed to be on the actual site, then to the tomb, also inside the church.  A memorial mass was being conducted so the was quite a crowd.  More narrow alleys and then we were in the open space before the Western Wall, part of the original temple.  To approach the Wall, men needed to cover their heads, and males and females were separated to different areas.
Once we arrived at out hotel, The Dan, we checked had a few minutes then to dinner.  Luckily the meal was served in hotel buffet style in a ballroom.  Being in Israel, all the food was Kosher, but there was a wide variety of options, of of which were delicious, and multiple bottles of wine.
The night time entertainment was a light show in the courtyard of a guard tower on the city wall.  It was very well planned with a walk along the inside perimeter of the wall with various vignettes in the alcoves.  The actual show was projected on the interior walls.  It was a show of the history of Jerusalem and I thought it was very good.  Of course was had to take in all the details because of the size of the projection.

The one thing that REALLY surprised me about Jerusalem was how hilly it was, and the fact that they were STEEP hills.  I thought it would be on rolling hills, not some that were more like cliffs.

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