After a restful afternoon at the Bat Yam apartment, we headed to the beach in the evening to admire the Jellyfish. We have been told jellyfish season is nearly over, and it is not uncommon to find jellyfish with a diameter as long as one's arm. Afterward, on our way back to the apartment we stopped at Victory Ice Cream for a late night snack.
The next morning Josh and I took a taxi to pick up our rental car in Rishon LeTzion. After signing the paperwork (and paying extra for insurance as my Discover apparently doesn't cover rentals out of the country), we headed back toward Bat Yam to pick up the rest of the group. Unfortunately, my GPS tablet didn't work as well in Israel as it does in the states. In lagged significantly behind, even putting us on neighboring streets blocks away. After getting ourselves significantly turned around, Josh found our way back to the rental company where we rented a GPS for the remainder of our trip.
Thankfully the landlord allowed John, Ruth, and Shushan to remain in the apartment while he cleaned it for the next guests. After arriving back and getting loaded up, we headed up the coast through Tel Aviv to Caesarea to join Paul in prison, then on to Mount Carmel to watch Elijah call fire down from heaven. Afterward, we headed back south on route 6 to the Negev Desert where we ate dinner in Arad, picked up groceries, and found a battery charger for my camera batteries (which I had left at Awake Israel - oops!) I enjoyed a local falafel (fried garbanzo beans - I think). Around nine we made it to our family room in Neve Zohar on the Dead Sea ... and it was hot! Even the "cold" water was warm, but thankfully the air conditioning worked!
The next morning we took off for Masada, the last stand of the Jewish revolt, falling in 70 AD. We took the the cable car back down to the base of the mountain to our vehicle and headed up north to the Jordan river, near where John baptized Jesus. After enjoying lunch at the site and watching a short baptism service, we headed back down south to En Gedi where David hid from Saul. After cooling our feet in the spring water, we headed further south to Ein Bokek, just up the road from our room in Neve Zohar. At Ein Bokek we bobbed in the sea for a few minutes before getting some dinner at a local fast food restaurants and heading back for the night.
The next morning we headed back north toward Jerusalem. On the road from Jericho to Jerusalem we stopped at the Good Samaritan Inn to admire a few mosaics before attempting to ascend the Mount of Olives. Unfortunately, it the Israeli GPS we rented is a bit outdated as a few roads have changed. Instead of driving to the top of the Mount of Olives, we headed to our apartment on the North-West side of the Old City. With the GPS issue and little to no parking on shabbat, I took us to Mamilla Parking by the mall at Jaffa Gate, walking 20 minutes to our apartment. Thankfully, parking was cheaper here than the parking garage closer to the apartment. We stayed in a renovated cellar built in the 1800s. It was a very cozy and welcoming apartment, actually nicer than I anticipated. After eating our packed lunch of PB&J with Pita Bread, we walked down to Herod's Gate through the Muslim Quarter to the pool of Bethesda. After singing a song or two in St. Anne's Chapel, we headed on through the Lion Gate and over to the Garden of Gethsemane. From here we headed up to the Mount of Olives to the Chapel of Tears. As we were approaching the top of the Mountain, John headed into the "tombs of the prophets" the Arab gentleman showed Shushan, Josh, and John around to the supposed tombs of Malachi, Zechariah, and Haggai. Ruth and I remained outside admiring the view of the Old City. As we were now toward the top of the mountain, we headed over to the lookout to get an overview and layout of the city. The view overlooking the Jewish tombs, Eastern Gate, and Temple Mount is amazing!
We headed back down the mountain, looping around the city wall to the Northern side to the Garden Tomb. Although I do not believe this is the actual location, there is a sweet spirit about the place (it is the only protestant site in Jerusalem and offers a nice alternative. We then headed back into the old city through the Damascus Gate (passing by a snake handling man -which would give Ruth a few nightmares that evening) to the Church of the Holy Seplechar. We walked around to the chapel over empty tomb and waited in line to enter. This was actually my first time to enter this particular section as last time I didn't want to wait in line. While in line we experienced two services, though I'm not entirely sure which of the six churches that claim rights to the church we observed. After making sure the tomb was empty, we circled around the church to the remains of Golgotha, observing the split in the stone. Before leaving the Old City through Jaffa Gate, we ate at a local restaurant. Ruth and I had a baby chicken dish and a lamb/beef pita. Much of the cuisine is Mediterranean with lots of salads. Shushan tried the shawarma (the cooked insides of the chicken).
The next morning John, Shushan, and Josh attended church at Christ's Church, the oldest protestant church in the Middle East. Ruth and I joined them after the service and headed over to the Ben Yehuda market with John to pick up lunch for the group. After getting off the light rail and Meane Yehuda, we tried a few pastries, baklava, and the "best lemonade." It actually want all that great, but the mint was a nice touch. We headed back with a large watermelon, mangoes,and pita bread for our sandwiches. The afternoon was a restful one. In the evening, we met up with a good Ukrainian friend of Shushan's in the City Center. We invited her to join us in visiting the Friend's of Zion museum. The museum opened a couple months ago with a grand opening still scheduled for the fall. The night before we left for Israel, my Pappaw called to encourage us to visit this state of the art ministry he has been supporting. It was an excellent recommendation! The museum told the stories of Christians and Jews who were influential in helping the Jewish people and the establishment of the nation. Shushan's friend (who has now lived in Jerusalem for two years) was excited to bring friends back. Josh, John, and I left Shushan to visit with her friend while we scouted out a place to pick up supper. In the end we decided on a kosher pizza (no meat) from Pizza Hut.
On Monday, we were originally planning to go to Bethlehem, but as it was the last day of Ramadan, the need to take an Arab bus, and the fact there was much yet to do in Jerusalem, we decided to stay. We first headed to the Temple Mount through the Jewish Quarter. The "modesty police" required Shushan to further cover her arms. Thankfully, we planned ahead and brought some scarves just in case. Afterwards we headed back down to pray at the Wailing Wall; then over to the Archaeological Park where we viewed Robinson's Arch and ascended the ancient steps that would have lead to the Temple. After existing the city through the Dung Gate, we circled around to the Upper Room by the Dormition Abbey and onward to a possible site where Jesus was tried by Herod. After eating lunch at the small park, the team tested out their haggling skills on the Christian Quarter to bring home a few souvenirs. We met back up in the City Center for dinner,finding a falafal shop where I ordered a falafal laffa and Ruth an falafal plate- a very taste and spicy dinner. Ruth fell in love with Coffix, a coffee shop that had iced coffee (as well as iced vanilla and iced passion fruit for only 5 shekels). On our way back to the apartment for the final evening, we picked up some frozen yogurt with fresh fruit for our hot walk home.
Tuesday Morning, Ruth and I walked back to our rental car, picking up lunch supplies and another Coffix along the way ;). After navigating out of Jerusalem, we headed up the rift valley to Beit Shean where the bodies of King Saul and his sons were hung on the wall. The city was later developed into a full Roman City. After Beit Shean, we went to the foot of Mount Gilboa to drink from the spring of Harod, the same springs that Gideon's men drank from. We all cupped our hands to drink. Guess that means we're in the army. ;) Next we traveled across the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth. We ascended the mountain ridge and took in the view on Mount Precipice, the location where the men of Nazareth wanted to plunge Jesus over the edge after teaching in their synagogue. As the day was beginning to come to a close, we headed over to Tiberius and around to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to our Bungalow at En Gev. So, when I always read of the Sea of Galilee, I pictured something like the one of the Great Lakes. So in my mind it was small in comparison. Apparently, I overemphasized how small it was. Ruth was shocked how large the sea was. It took us about 20 minutes to drive halfway around it. With our bungalow on the Galilee Sea shore, we couldn't help but go for a swim before a buffet dinner of local cuisine.
The next morning, the reality of this being our final day began to sink in. We started off with a good breakfast with our first stop just up the road at Kursi, the site where Jesus cast the demons into the swine. This was also Jesus first ministry to us Gentiles. We then rounded the lake to Capernaum, the base of Jesus' ministry. After viewing the home Jesus likely stayed in and the synagogue, we headed on to the Mount of Beatitudes, followed by the Jesus boat at Ginneasor. At this point we began to back track to En Gev, stopping at Tabga and the Primacy of Peter. Just a couple weeks ago Jewish vandals burned much of the Tabga Church (site where Jesus multiplied the bread and fish). Thankfully, the main challenge was undamaged and we were able to enter. After arriving back at our bungalow, we got back in the sea before our boat ride at five from Tiberius. We ended up joining a Galilee Worship Boat, the only boat company in Galilee owned and operated by Christians.The group we joined was from Hong Kong. This was one of their first stops and they were full of enthusiasm and excitement. This boat differed from a traditional boat ride in that it was a worship service on the sea! Although we couldn't understand most of the worship a songs, we did recognize the first: With Jesus in the Boat you can Smile in the Storm. The Hong Kong believers danced and sang for the majority of the hour. What a unique experience! After dinner that evening, we once again got in the water to watch our final sunset in Israel.
This morning was an early morning as we needed to drive from En Gev back down to Tel Aviv to catch our flight at 12:40. Over all, I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to drive in Israel. The most difficult places were in Rishon LeTzion and Jerusalem, but even then, the road structure was well organized. The only real issue was that many roads were not well labeled as they are in the states. Although the speed limit varies on the main roads, few actually keep to it. Coming back down on 6 to Tel Aviv, traffic at one point was going 140 km per hour - about 85 mph, (though most roads around Israel averaged 90-100 km - about 55-60 mph) - which helped us make really good time to the car rental return! Now it's on to Stockholm before our loooong ride home.
The flight to Stockholm was an unusual one for us as it was full of families with LOTS of kids and chaos. Throughout most of the flight there were up to 30 people meandering the isle with kids running up and down while parents tried to sleep. We were thankful to land in ARN airport. We rented a locker at the airport to store our luggage so we wouldn't need to tote it all over the city. From the airport, we took the flygbussarna bus to the Stockholm central station where we found our way to the old city center of Gamla Stan (dating to the 1200s) where we found our hostel for the night. Food in Europe is super expensive compared to the states, so we looked around for a while before finding a restaurant that was comparatively reasonable called Le Chef. The food was amazingly good! Definitely need to write a good review on TripAdvisor for this one. The team unintentionally ordered all non kosher food ... Perhaps the fact that we've only eaten kosher food for the last week had something to do with how good the food was! (For example, all the pizza in Israel comes without meat and the hamburgers without cheese). On our way back, Ruth and I split off to do a little shopping and meandering through the old city. We ended up being out until close to dusk (around midnight). The next morning the sun was up close to 3 am and Ruth and I again took off around 7 to walk the streets. We met back up with the team for breakfast at a bakery. Afterward, we decided to take a bus/boat tour of the city. We opted for the Ocean Bus, an amphibious bus similar to a duck (Wisconsin Dells). This however looked more like a bus than a boat. It is unique in Stockholm and took several years for the brothers to get all the permits required. It was fun to watch peoples expressions as the saw the bus enter and exit the water! The guide was humorous and informative. His humor was a dry British humor. After getting of our 75 minute bus ride, we picked up some lunch and ice cream before heading back to the airport. Upon checking in, we were informed that our flight was delayed by 3 hours 40 minutes due to a technical reason. This meant we would miss our bus back in the States. European law states that the airline need not make compensation for international delays less than four hours so they only gave us meal vouchers to buy some dinner. As it was less than 24 hours before our bus departure, Greyhound would not move our tickets. I opted for us to rent a car from JFK to Lexington as it was far cheaper than a last minute bus ride at $230-400 per person versus our $30-80 tickets purchased a couple months in advanced. In the end, it was a much more pleasant ride to have rented the car versus taking the bus, and we arrived several hours sooner than if we had taken the bus. Now I can add NYC to the list of cities I've driven through. (Though thankfully, NYC was at night - which was still incredibly busy! I would definitely want to avoid it in the day time!)
We arrived in Lexington by 1:30 pm with Pappa Speas waiting to bring us home. Although there were a few bumps and rough moments along the way, God taught us many lessons and we are thankful for each experience to grow in new ways. Overall, the trip was a joy and an amazing experience. Having led this first fantastic team, I look forward to another team to the Holy Land in a couple years! :)
Watch out for the tentacles!!
At the Mediterranean Sea in Bat Yam
Bat Yam at Night
Yumm, Halva and Pistachio, Pistachio, and Strawberry (?) with a Nutella Crepe
Obama signs deal with Iran ... stupid, stupid, stupid.
Our Rental Car for the next week!
Herod's Amphitheater in Caesarea
Herod's Lower Palace right on the sea
Standing close to where Paul would make his address before Felix and Festus
Walking up into the Byzantine Bath House
Ancient Boat Anchors
Herod's Aqueduct Leading to Caesarea
Hiking around Mount Carmel
Overlooking the sight where Elijah called down fire from heaven.
New Friends we met from Kentucky!
Arriving at our Dead Sea Room
Be sure to get that sun screen on ... it's going to be HOT!
Our hike to Masada isn't quite as difficult as it would have been for the Romans.
Imagine watching the Romans build their camps day by day knowing it would only be a matter of time...
Standing in Herod's three-tired Northern Palace
Synagogue from the Revolters
Herod made sure everything looked exquisite!
Going down into the Southern Cistern
Wow! That's a lot of water in the desert.
Driving across Israel!
At the Jordan River
John at least got his toe in the water ;)
Great spot for lunch!
Josh is excited about En Gedi
Though there is a bit of hiking
Beautiful view of the Dead Sea
Cooling our feet in at the end of the trail
Approaching Masada again as we head back to our room
You really do bob in the Dead Sea! And the water is HOT!!
Camel Ride Anyone?
The Inn of the Good Samaritan
Must be trash day in Jerusalem
Pool of Bethesda
Singing in St. Anne's Chapel
Ready to hike up the Mount of Olives?
Garden of Gethsemane
Lots of Tombs
1st Century Sarcophagus
Tombs of the Prophets
Up to the city overlook from the Mount of Olives
Our Amazing Team!
The Eastern Gate
Josh makes friends wherever he goes!
At the Protestant Garden Tomb
The traditional site of Christ's death and resurrection: Church of the Holy Seplechar
Golgotha's Hill carved out inside the small chapel
Chapel over the tomb
The Split in the Rock from the Earthquake
Dinner in Jerusalem
Meeting up with the team at Christ's Church
Waiting for the Light Rail to Ben Yehuda Market
Waiting for Shushan's friend in the City Center
Friend's of Zion Museum
In the Roman Cardo
Bar Mitzvah Ceremony
The Dome of the Rock
Ahh!! No Hugging on the Temple Mount!!! ... Oops!
As elbows can interfere with the "Divine Presence," make sure to bring a scarf just in case.
Drinks lots of water! We're sweating it out!
Praying at the Western Wall
The streets sunk in from the stones falling from the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD
The old entrance to the Temple
Sitting on the Stairs of Ascent
Site where Peter Denied Christ 3x and where Jesus was held for the night
It's been a long day ...
Outside David's Tomb (though it really isn't the right location)
The Upper Room
Possible location where Jesus was tried before Pontius Pilate
David's Citadel (nothing to do with King David)
Planning our next day in our Cistern Appartment
There's a shepherd and his flocks by day ...
Had a Memory Card Error - lost the pictures for the rest of Tuesday :(
Ruth working hard for some fresh olive oil ;)
Pigs likely ran into the sea over the cliff in the far background
Shushan really wants those Keys of the Kingdom!
I can almost see Jesus walking the streets here ...
Mount of Beatitudes
Come to Me All Who Thurst ... but don't drink the water!
The Boat Museum
Was it Jesus' Boat? ... We'll have to ask Him.
Tabga was burned by Jewish Arsonists
The Primacy of Peter
On the Worship Boat on the Sea of Galilee
Joining our Hong Kong Brethren in Worship
Our Bungalow on the Sea of Galilee
The Cliffs of Arbel
Tiberius ... a city on a hill
On the Bus to Stockholm
Woot! Woot! Where do we go from here?
Entering the Parliament Island
The Parliament Building
The old city on Gamla Stan
Ruth can do that too!
Hmm ... Not really in the mood for Second Hand Coffee
Dinner at Le Chef
The Royal Palace
A late night stroll ... No really, it's midnight!
Ymm, doesn't that look good!?
The Royal Theater where the royalty come to watch the show and the people come to watch the royalty!
Apparently the World's Larges Mushroom ... a good meeting spot.
Our Bus/Boat Guide
US Embassy - of course it's the largest.
Will it float?
Go for a swim anyone?
Sweden's largest amusement park
Josh wins a postcard of the Royal Family
Behind those trees is the Israeli Embassy
Yep, it's got a propeller
The Prime Minister works somewhere in there
The Swedish Parliament Building ... Currently divided between three major parties - a first for Sweden.
The Old Enterance
The Old Chamber house
Former Parliament Speaker
Hey! It's bigger on the inside!!!
Waiting at the Airport ...