Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Israel Adventure: Sea of Galilee, a Flat Tire, and Caesaria

Sunday morning we got in our rental car (named "The Ladybug" by Rebecca) and headed out of Jerusalem and north toward the Sea of Galilee. As soon as we left the city we started seeing herds of goats, camels, and sheep, usually being herded along by a boy on a donkey. Once a whole herd of sheep started crossing the road right behind us!

When we reached the security checkpoint for re-entry into Israel from the West Bank territory, we were stopped and asked for our passports. Then we had to pull over to the area where they search cars, where we got out of the car and individually went through a metal detector while our car was searched with a search dog! Quite exciting, and a little intimidating, especially since each soldier has a huge gun! We knew they were the good guys, though, and they need to be extra careful with security, so we just did what they said and we were soon on our way again.

Our first stop was the Jordan River. We stopped at the very touristy baptismal site right on the river. This is not the actual site where Jesus/Yeshua was baptized, but it is a place where people can come and be baptized in the Jordan (after paying $10 for the white robe to wear). We didn't do this, but we touched the water and took a lot of pictures. It is a good place to see the river if you can ignore the extremely overpriced souvenir shop.

The girls and me by the Jordan River

Cute little creatures called Israeli Coypu were swimming in the Jordan
We continued driving until we reached the Tiberius area, where we found a place to walk down to the shores of the beautiful Sea of Galilee, which is actually a huge lake called Lake Kinneret. The strong wind and waves made it easy to imagine Yeshua calming the storm with his words. We could picture in our minds all of the familiar stories from the Bible that happened here.

We continued our drive to the ruins of Capernaum, where we saw the site of Peter's house and the remains of a synagogue from the 4th century that was built on the site of the "Synagogue of Jesus".

By now we were hungry for lunch, so we found a restaurant. We weren't sure what kind of restaurant it was, because the name was only in Hebrew, but we decided to try it. We didn't know what anything was on the menu! Robert and I tried the Lebanese fattoush (YUM!!!), and the girls had some kind of rice dish with beef and cinnamon. It was so delicious!
Lebanese Fattoush
We got back on the road after lunch, and within 10 kilometers (don't ask me how many miles that is...I never could remember how to figure it out) our car started thump thump thumping. The Ladybug had a flat tire!
Poor little Ladybug

Roadside view
A quick tire change by my wonderful husband, and we were on our way again, but much slower now traveling on a little spare tire. We drove to Nazareth, but all of the interesting places were closed because they were Christian sites and it was Sunday. I had not anticipated this, being in Israel where everything else is closed on Saturday for the Sabbath. So, we kept driving east toward the coast and Caesarea. Because of the flat tire and slow driving, by the time we arrived there the national park where the archaeological ruins are was closed, but we were able to go to the beach and see the Herodian Aqueduct, which was an amazing sight!
Herodian Aqueduct at Caesarea

Looking out at the Mediterranean Sea
The sun was beginning to go down, and the Mediterranean Sea looked so beautiful! We continued on our way back to Jerusalem, where we ate some more delicious Israeli food for dinner. What an amazing day!!!

Coming up next...David's City, Hezekiah's Tunnel and Zedekiah's Cave

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Israel Adventure: Driving, Western Wall Tunnel, and Shabbat

After trying to get some sleep on the plane from Brussels to TelAviv, we landed around 1:00 a.m. We picked up our rental car and were on our way to Jerusalem, with my husband behind the wheel and me navigating.  We were quickly confronted with what would be the biggest challenge of the entire trip: driving in Israel.  If you ever plan to drive in Israel, here are a few tips for you; some things I wish someone would have told us.  First, a GPS can be your best friend and/or your worst enemy. Do not depend on it. Ours kept losing its signal right when we needed it the most.  Also (and this is VERY important), words transliterated from the Hebrew alephbet to our alphabet can be spelled several different ways.  So, the street you are looking for could be spelled one way on your map, another way on your GPS, another way on the directions from Google maps, and yet another way on the actual street sign (if you can even find it!)  For example, Zipporah Street can also be spelled with a "Tz" or "Ts" at the beginning, with just one "p" in the middle, and with or without the "h" at the end (and this is the simplest example I could think of). An "h" in a word can also be "ch" or "kh", and most vowels seem to be interchangeable. And to top it all off, sometimes the names are actually translated into English, like "Bethlehem" instead of "Beit Lechem" or "King David" Street instead of "David Hamelech".  So, you can imagine our confusion when we couldn't even find our apartment's address in our GPS! Other things we learned about driving in Israel: the city streets are not straight, but very winding, the stoplights are different (green, then blinking green, quick yellow, red, yellow, then green again), and Israeli drivers live up to their reputation of absolutely insane driving!  Somehow we managed to find our apartment (after driving around Jerusalem for a while) with the help of written directions, several phone calls, and our not-so-trusty GPS.  We all fell into bed completely exhausted.
Our apartment building in the daylight
The next morning we had to drag ourselves out of bed, because we had a reservation for the Western Wall Tunnel Tour. This tour has to be reserved two or three months in advance, and we did not want to miss it.  It was completely worth it! The Western Wall is just a small area. It is the holiest place in Judaism, because it is the closest accessible place to the location of the Holy of Holies where the presence of God dwelt in the Temple. That's above the ground. Underground they have excavated the entire length of the original wall, and this tour goes through those tunnels. It was amazing just to be standing there on the 2,000 year old road.
Ancient road
Ancient Walls
Matityahu was our guide
The tour ended with a walk through the old city back to the Western Wall area. That was quite an experience in itself! The old city is very, very busy on Fridays. Many muslims are there for their holy day, and many Jewish people are rushing to get things done before their Shabbat (sabbath) begins. We followed our guide back to the Wall, spent some time there, and then made our way through the maze of shop lined streets back to the Jaffa Gate to find our car where we left it in a parking lot near there.
The Western Wall
Robert & the girls by some old city shops
We knew we needed to get back and do some grocery shopping before everything closed down at 1 or 2 in the afternoon for Shabbat.  Stores, restaurants, and other businesses close so that everyone can get home and prepare for the Sabbath before sundown. As soon as we got back to our apartment, we walked (much simpler than driving) to the nearest "supermarket".
Some of the food we bought
The walk through the neighborhood was so nice. It was busy with children walking home from school and adults getting home from work. One of my very favorite memories of that day is when I saw a young woman at her kitchen window cheerfully preparing the Shabbat meal for her family. Her hair was wound up in a scarf, and she smiled as she went about her work. The whole neighborhood had a feeling of anticipation, waiting for the special day of family, rest and worship to begin.

We got some much needed rest that evening. So much rest that we slept until after 11:00 the next morning! (And some of us slept even longer!) We were going to attend a Shabbat service at a Messianic congregation, but we slept right through it. We did our own Bible study like we would have at home, only it was much more special actually being in the place we were reading about! We took another walk around the neighborhood, and then later, after sundown, we found a restaurant and had some delicious Israeli food for dinner.

Coming up next....Sea of Galilee, a Flat Tire, and Caesarea.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Israel Adventure - Side Trip to Brussels

I have taken a bit of a vacation from blogging. Part of the reason: I've been out of the country! My family and I went on an amazing trip to Israel. My next few posts will be all about the many adventures we had while we were there.

Before we even arrived in Israel we had an 11 hour layover in Brussels, Belgium, so we decided to use that time to do some sightseeing. Right after we got off the plane we encountered our first problem.  Haley and I were stuck behind an elderly lady who needed assistance, and Robert and Rebecca were farther ahead.  There were two directions to go, and somehow we were directed to go different ways.  When I realized this, the uncooperative airport worker would not allow us to go back, and he wouldn't even check to see if the rest of our family was waiting for us.  I tried to ask where we could find them, but he was not being helpful at all.  He said, "You will find them upstairs, no problems."  WHAT??? Yes, there were problems.  I still don't know where he meant by "upstairs".  We had no way to contact each other. We were wandering around the airport, asking different workers where we should go and what we should do for about two hours! Finally we managed to find each other.  What a huge relief! Not a great start to the trip, but we were determined to enjoy the day. 

We took the train from the airport into the city. We stepped out of the train station and immediately lost all sense of direction. Old cities are so easy to get lost in, with their winding little streets.  After a few minutes of walking we found a landmark.  The Cathedrale des Saints Michel et Gudele. 

I recognized it from a travel book. So we found it on the map, but it was still a little confusing and hard to figure out which way we should go to get where we wanted to go: to the "Grand Place". So, we walked around some more. I don't think Robert and the girls believed me about the Grand Place. "It's a big town square area with lots of really big, pretty buildings," I said. But we were only seeing little streets lined with cute buildings. We stopped for a break to eat some Belgian waffles.

They were melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Different from any waffle I have ever tasted. YUM!

Then we continued our search for the Grand Place. Finally we found it, and it was even more grand than I expected!
So many beautiful old buildings! After we took it all in, we walked around looking for this:
This is the famous Mannekin-Pis. A statue of a little kid peeing. Why it is famous, I do not know, but I had to find it and get a picture, because it is a must if you are in Brussels!

We bought some little souvenirs, saw more interesting sights, and then before we left we had to try the chocolate and the "frites" that Belgium is famous for.  Frites are fries. The best fries you have ever tasted! They are served with mayonnaise, which is surprisingly good!

So, after a rocky start, it was a good day in Brussels. And our adventure had hardly even begun!