We started our morning with a simple breakfast in our apartment, then headed out to see Jesus’ stomping ground: the Sea of Galilee, a.k.a. Lake Tiberias. We’re staying in the city of Tiberias on that lake, and most of these key sites were about a 15 minute drive up the lake from our place.
Our first stop was two places in Tabgha: the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes and the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter.
These sites hosted many of the important events of Jesus’ ministry. This includes the feeding the 5,000, and many others such as the calling of Peter, James, John, and Andrew as disciples, and the miraculous catch of fish after his resurrection. It’s also the place where he gave Peter leadership of the church, so there’s a church built here known as the Primacy of Peter.
The beach at both sites was quite nice and it was easy to imagine fishing boats going in and out. I could easily see Jesus shouting from shore, “Put your nets over there!”
The Sermon on the Mount also happened near here – just a few minute drive up a mountain road from this spot. It could easily have started near this spot – Jesus was speaking near the water, and when the crowds became too big, he simply walked up the mountain to a place known for its fabulous acoustics. People could hear him much better there, and there was plenty of space for the people to sit and listen.
Now, the place is an Italian monastery. The really weird thing is that the church was commissioned by Mussolini. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that. Seeing the place was nice, but it was insanely crowded, which mostly took the reverence away. There were a few paths with beautiful flowers, but most of them were blocked off for monastery use. The plants also make it look a bit more like Italy than Israel here. The view of Sea of Galilee was amazing and where I was able to spend a little time reflecting on the site.
From here, we continued to Capernaum, just a few miles away, and the home of Peter and Andrew. Jesus spent a lot of time here as well and you can see the ruins of Peter’s house. A very modern church was built suspended on pillars over the ruins of Peter’s house. The center of the church has a balcony with a glass floor, looking down on the ruins. The inside of the church has some really nice carved pictures of different gospel scenes, my favorite appeared to be when Jesus told the children to come to him, but I couldn’t read the Latin.
Just outside the ruins of Peter’s house were the ruins of a synagogue. The synagogue was past Jesus’ time, but they are pretty sure that it was laid on top of an earlier synagogue that was during Jesus’ time. We wandered a bit and found a nice log bench to sit on and enjoy the view of the lake.
At this point, the plan was to go to St. Peter’s Fish Restaurant, about the only choice nearby, but the boys really wanted either McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. Sigh. Imagine their delight when we got to the gate leading to the restaurant and it was closed. Since we didn’t want to overwhelm the kids with church after church after church, our next stop was an inland one with a bit more variety. Jeremy checked his phone to see if there was a McDonald’s on the way, and sure enough, there were several choices. The oddest thing about many McDonald’s in Israel, while not all strictly kosher, avoid cheeseburgers, in keeping with Kosher traditions. In fact, nothing has cheese since cheese and meat cannot be served together, placed on the same plate, or even cooked in the same kitchen. Given my love of cheese on everything, it definitely wasn’t my favorite McDonald’s, but the three boys were incredibly happy, particularly when James got a surprisingly fun toy in his Happy Meal.
Our next stop was Banias Nature Reserve in the Golan Heights, which features the biggest waterfall in Israel, as well as a bunch of Roman ruins. In Roman times, it was also known as Caesarea Philippi, which is very different than Caesarea – the former in the mountains with streams an the latter on the coast. There were also hiking trails with signs warning not to go off the path due to land mines. The boys were delighted with the combination! We started with a nice walk along a stream.
The path continued to some fairly impressive ruins. There was a small part of the ancient aqueduct that appeared to be functional. Plus the boys loved the pictures of what the swimming pool may have looked like. The Romans really liked their water.
We thought about hiking over to the waterfall, but it was a 90 minute round trip hike in 95 degree weather and we only had left was one water bottle each. We decided the 5 minute drive would be better. Luckily it was 2:40, so we had plenty of time to get there before the entrance point closed at 3:00. Our walk started in the sun, but went down a fairly steep path to the river. There was another path that took 45 minutes and went to a towering viewpoint, but we were glad we chose the shady path that took us much closer to the waterfall.
The waterfall was quite impressive and very beautiful. We walked to the end of the path and made it back to the car well before the park closed at 4:00.
If we would have hiked the trail between the ruins and the waterfalls, we would have seen more landmine signs (don’t worry – it’s a popular hiking park, and they’re well-marked behind fences). This park is close to the Syrian border, and the Golan region apparently still has significant numbers of mines left from the 50’s and 60’s. The paths are considered very safe, but if you stray too far off them, you may have a nasty surprise. John was way too excited about this prospect.
We then continued further into the Golan Heights and went to Mount Bental, a U.N. peacekeeping watch station and former Israeli concrete bunker. After a steep drive up, we were rewarded with a great 360-degree view of both the Golan Heights region and… Syria. From the map, the Syrian border didn’t look like it was more than a handful of miles away (Damascus was less than 40 miles). Note: there were plenty of other tourists like ourselves there.
The kids were delighted! There were concrete trenches for them to run through, old sightseeing equipment, a long, dark tunnel that went into the underground bunker, and more! They even got to see two real U.N. Peacekeepers at work with their binoculars and notepads.
The kids played around while Jeremy and I enjoyed the views of both Israel and Syria (after where the green stops).
On the way out, we skipped the coffee shop, but enjoyed looking at the industrial metal sculptures.
The drive back was fairly uneventful, but there were some nice views of the Sea of Galilee.
On arrival, we spent some time resting, then went out for a beautiful sunset walk. The mountains really come alive at this time of day.