Jerusalem: Day 1

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The last three nights, we have stayed in three continents.  We started in Cairo, Africa, then spent 1 night near Athens, Europe, and now we are in Jerusalem, Asia!  (We needed Athens as a stop-over).  I was very nervous about this trip, but now that we are here, all the nervousness is gone and I am happy we came.

Last night was a very short night.  We arrived at our hotel near the Athens airport around 10:00 PM, then set our alarms for 3:30 AM to catch our flight to Israel.  We were expecting to be exhausted, but the day went much better than expected.  If we would have been wiser, we would have booked the hotel for 2 nights and enjoyed the seaside town that we appeared to be in.  But when we booked, we thought that we might be returning back to Greece after Israel (and wanted to visit Israel earlier in the summer due to the heat), though we later decided not to do this in our planning.

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After arrival we caught a cab to our hotel, which is just inside the city walls, right next to the Jaffa Gate.  Of course, the taxi driver overcharged us a bit, but we weren’t sure what to do, so we paid it.  That seems to be the way of things here.  We took another short cab ride with an agreed upon price, but of course, the driver “didn’t have change” and we mostly just had ATM money.

We were hoping to stay in an apartment, but our arrival time was before checkin and for security reasons, Israel does not have storage lockers for bags, which meant a hotel that could store our bags until our room was ready, where an apartment wouldn’t have that service.  Even though we arrived at 11:00 AM, our room was ready and we didn’t have to deal with the issue at all.  The boys are very happy with their loft area, and Jeremy and I are happy to have some space of our own.  Let’s just hope the boys don’t fall off the toddler sized balcony railing of their loft.

We decided to start our day by wandering through the Old City.  We’re planning to take a more detailed tour that includes a few of these tomorrow, but wanted an initial look.  We enjoyed a walk through the market, then went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for an initial look.  This church was built on the tomb where they believe Jesus was buried and where they believe that he rose from the grave.  We spend much time in this part since we expect to be back tomorrow, but we did see the Stone of Unction, on which it is believed that Jesus body was prepared for burial.

At this point, we decided to head for the Mount of Olives, but decided that lunch might be difficult there, so it would be wise to eat early.  We stopped at a bagel shop in the Jewish Quarter and got bagel sandwiches.  Each bagel was carefully, and very slowly, prepared, but we eventually got our food.  John was surprised to learn that bagels are from Israel.  He thought they were from New York, which is a pretty good guess.

As we were wandering toward the Mount of Olives, we decided to stop by the Western Wall, formerly know as the Wailing Wall.  This was a retaining wall for the Temple mount from 2 millenia ago (most of which was destroyed in 70 A.D.), and is regarded as a very holy site in the Jewish faith.  Men and women have to approach it from different sides, but men have to have their heads covered.  Similarly to mosques, the men get a much bigger area to explore than the women.  Somewhat unfair.  Watching all the people touching the wall and praying in many languages was a bit overwhelming, but a good starting point for reflection on what all the historic sites we are going to see over the next few days actually mean.

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The closest gate to outside the city was the Dung Gate.  John was disappointed that it wasn’t made out of dung, but we explained that this was the gate used for waste removal in ancient times.  We continued on the outside of the walls, along the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives Cemetery.

The Kidron Valley is known as a place that Jesus crossed many times to visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany.  The kids thought it was particularly cool that Lazarus was likely raised just 5 miles from where they were standing.

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The Mount of Olives Cemetery is another interesting place.  Based on some verses in Zechariah, many people believe that when the resurrection happens the dead from this cemetery will be the first to rise and that they will walk to Temple Mount.  Given this, it is a very popular burial site.

We continued to the Lion Gate, then caught an overpriced cab to the top of the Mount of Olives.  It really should be called the Hill of Olives, but with the heat, we really didn’t want to walk up even a small hill.  We couldn’t figure out which bus went up, and another taxi had already refused to take us, so we took what we could get to avoid burning ourselves and the kids out.

We started with a nice overlook of the city.

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After this, we continued to the Chapel of the Ascension.  This is where it is believed that the disciples watched Jesus being carried into the heavens and where they stood waiting for him to come back until two angels told them that it might be a while.

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As we continued down the hill, we were hoping to stop at the Church of the Pater Noster, where the Lord’s Prayer is translated into over 100 languages, but it is closed on Sundays.  Disappointing, since it was one of James favorite places when he came here 1.5 years ago with Jeremy, but at least it was the only unexpectedly closed site of the day.

The Dominus Flevit was where we ran into two very large tour groups.  When Jesus wept for the coming destruction of Israel, this is where they think he did it.  The Garden of Gesthsemane wasn’t supposed to open for another half hour, so we found some benches in the shade.  One of the tour groups decided to sing Amazing Grace in the church.  Beautiful!  The acoustics were amazing.  We wandered around a bit, then found a nice bench in the shade to wait until closer to 3:00.

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The Russian Church with the gold domes looks really cool from the city, but it is only open for a couple of hours per week.  We were hoping to go in, but today was not a day they were open.

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Our next stop was the Garden of Gethsemane, which was much drier than you might expect from the name, but quite beautiful when you put it into perspective of the rest of the land.  It was a bit sad to reflect on what Jesus must have been thinking and feeling the night he prayed there while his best friends slept.  We sat in the chapel for a while thinking about it.  The ceiling had a gigantic crown of thorns circling the dome.  The stained glass windows showed images of his suffering.  The paintings on the walls were of individual people important in Christian history.  It was a good place to really think of his anguish.

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The last stop was the Tomb of the Virgin.  The church was in the orthodox style, with lots of hanging lanterns, icons, and big open spaces.  Next door was a little chapel that we weren’t sure what the significance was.

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Finished with the Mount of Olives, we continued down into the Kidron Valley, where the tombs of Absalom and Zechariah lay.  It was fun, but hot.  The boys liked climbing around a bit, and there were 2 camels that were tied up that they enjoyed watching.

We climbed the other side of the valley, then walked outside the walls to the Lion’s Gate, where we followed the Via Dolorosa, or the “way of the sorrow,” back to our hotel.  On the way, we peeked into a few things and pointed out landmarks to the boys.  John particularly liked the idea that the pool of Bethesda was real.  The boys also found it fascinating to think about the spot where Jesus dropped the cross and Simon picked it up.  When you see the stories, rather than just read about them, it feels a lot more real.

By this time, I was way too hot and way too dehydrated.  We had bought some extra water as needed, but we should have bought more.  We rested at the hotel for a couple of hours, then went out again a little before sunset.  So pleasant!  The temperature had dropped and everyone was happy again.

We decided to wander over to the New City area.  The boys (Jeremy included) got some ice cream cones, then we went pastry shop hopping.  I had a tasty pastry filled with poppy seeds, a delicious pinwheel with mystery ingredients, and a puff pastry with sesame seeds.  Wonderful!  I think this might be a good pattern for at least 1 meal per day.  The best part is that they have a ton of little, tiny pastries, you pick them out, put them in a bag, then they weigh them and you pay per kg.  Perfect for samplings tons of delicious treats!  Bakeries should use this model at home.

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