Saturday, November 12, 2011

Jerusalem Overnight Excursion-Day 1

Sea of Galilee from Mount of Beatitudes
 Cruise ship excursions are all about choices. For ports in Israel, generally Haifa to the north and Ashdod further south, passengers can choose from several day trips focusing on specific sites and areas. The granddaddy of them all, however, is an overnight excursion to Jerusalem, which offers the opportunity to see more while eliminating a lot of travel time from ports to cities, and NCL offered three variations of these overnights. They weren’t cheap, but most in our group added that big ticket item to their budgets and booked it. We were very glad we did! Our hotel, entry tickets, and all meals were included in the price. Our group was too large to fit on one bus, however, so we were divided into two buses and shared the ride with other passengers. Both buses had excellent guides.

After an interesting, history-filled ride from Haifa, we arrived in Nazareth, known as the town of Jesus’ childhood. We visited the beautiful Church of the Annunciation, which was built in the 1960s over the cave that was identified no later than the 4th century as the place of the Annunciation. Other churches have been built there over the centuries, as revealed by layers of uncovered archaeology and history. Across the plaza is St. Joseph’s Church, said to stand over his workshop.  Our bus passed by Mary’s Well, (the water still flows) and then took us on to the Sea of Galilee where we stopped for lunch. Let me repeat that. We had lunch overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

The Jordan River makes her way south from this historic body of water, and it’s here that pilgrims flock to be baptized or just to feel the presence of biblical history. During most of its journey, the river is a only slip of a thing, but here it’s been (okay) commercialized a bit but also made more beautiful. Photos of ministers and politicians line a case as testimony to their own experiences at Yardenit. Of course, biblical scholars still debate the actual baptismal site, and at least two other locations claim that honor.Our guide pointed out the direction downstream of what he believes the site to be later that evening, but time approaching nightfall did not permit a visit there.

Jordan River at Yardenit Site
 A highlight for me that day was our visit to the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered his beautiful Sermon on the Mount. The church and surrounding areas on the Sea of Galilee were stunning, and our secular Jewish guide (by his own description) was gracious enough to read excerpts of the sermon from the book of Matthew. Tabgha, site of Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fish is nearby, as are the ruins of Capernaum, where Jesus called his disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and where the ruins of St. Peter’s house remain today. Interestingly, a beautiful Franciscan church was constructed over the ruins of Peter’s home but on pillars so as not to disturb the valuable ongoing excavations underneath. More visible on the site are the ruins of the synagogue and private dwellings. Night was fast approaching, so we headed southward along the Jordan Valley, the twinkling lights of Jordan to our east.

We arrived at our hotel about three hours later, exhausted from an early wake-up call on the ship and a full day of touring, and then our tour guide announced that after dinner we had an optional night tour of the city. The body said “no way”...but the spirit prevailed, so, armed with full tummies, we headed out again to the Mount of Olives for a breathtaking view of the city below. We kept pinching ourselves. Are we really here? The next morning’s view from the same overlook confirmed that we had truly arrived and revealed much more of the city—the Dome of the Rock glistening in the sun, the walls of the Old City, the Temple Mount, and the New City in the distant. This peaceful perspective, however, belied the business of the thriving streets below and diverse religions and cultures we were about to encounter.

By the way, I have now gone back to my first posts on this trip, added some links and photos, and done a little editing.  While traveling, I usually write on my Freedom Pro Keyboard via a Bluetooth connection to my BlackBerry and upload from there, too.  It's now the optimum format, but it works in a pinch!

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