Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

This morning I was really looking forward to my tour of Jerusalem and the trip to the Dead Sea that was to follow. I got up and got going to meet the tour bus at 8:30. I ended up waiting until 8:50 when a taxi came to pick me up. There was some confusion about whose cab it was, as another guy was also waiting for a different tour from the same company. Once it was finally settled that it was my cab, we were off to another hotel to get split up into our buses for all of the different destinations. I was in a tour bus with two other Americans, a Hungarian-Romanian with his German-Romanian wife, and a heap of Italians. We were touring the Old City, but before that we went up to Mount Scopus and then to the Mount of Olives.

  This is the view of Jerusalem from Mount Scopus.

After we finished looking over the city, we drove around to gain access to the Old City, more specifically to the Wailing Wall. While on the way there we drove past Gethsemane where I was able to get a couple of pictures of it. Here you can see a Roman Catholic Church in the bottom right corner. Behind and above it to the right, you can see the Russian Church where the Russian Orthodox Church believes that Jesus ascended to Heaven. While the other Christian Churches all put this on top of the Mount of Olives, the Russians put it here. They claim that there is a footprint of Jesus where he ascended. This sounds curiously like the claim of the Muslims that there is a footprint of Muhammad under the Dome of the Rock where he ascended to Heaven to have his vision.

So after a short drive with our tour guide Ossi, we had finally made our way to the Wailing Wall. I have way too many pictures of this to put them all up here, but I thought that I would at least put up two of them:

The Wailing Wall

Bar Mitzvah

From there we went through part of the Jewish Quarter into the Muslim Quarter. The security getting in and out of the Wailing Wall was pretty intense. There were lots of soldiers with machine guns and metal detectors between the Jewish and Muslim Quarters. The transition between the two Quarters was pretty shocking. One minute you see Israeli soldiers in their uniforms and Hasidic Jews and children at their Bar Mitzvahs, and then you see the men in their head scarves and the women in their Burqas, although this was pretty rare. It was surprising how quickly one moved from one region to the next. Eventually we made our way to the Via Dolorosa, where we had the opportunity to see Christ’s hand imprinted in the wall. We were assured that it was Christ’s hand because of the cross imprinted in it. That way we could be sure that it was his and definitely wasn’t a fake. We went through the stations of the cross, well at least most of them. While in this process, we were approached by a whole variety of people trying to sell us junk. The tour guide asked us not to shop with these people, since he would take us to a bazaar. He delivered on this promise and they eventually walked us into a really expensive store selling all kinds of religious paraphernalia, whether Jewish or Christian. They had things like ancient Roman coins, which they then encased in a little gold and glass frame. This made it cost even more. We were also informed of the tradition of buying an artifact and then putting it on the stone where Jesus’ body where prepared for burial and then taking a picture of it. I commented that this is an ancient tradition, going back to at least the 1970’s, when people started carrying cameras with them. The Catholics went to town, buying anything they could get their hands on. Well, maybe they weren’t all Catholic, but they were at least Italian.

After lunch at a restaurant they picked out for us (it was a little more expensive than the one I ate at the day before), they took us to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was a pretty amazing experience, but I have to admit that I felt more connection to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) than I did to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. There were way more pilgrims at the church though, at least as far as I could tell. The church is medieval construction based on the “research” of Constatine’s mother, Helena. After it was destroyed by the Persians in the early 7th century, it was rebuilt. The current form of the church goes back to the late 11th century, to the crusaders. Here are some pictures of the experience:

Pilgrims at the site of the cross

Pilgrims waiting to get into the site of the grave

Pilgrims at the stone where Jesus was prepared

From there we walked back to the bus and prepared to separate our paths and head to our next destinations. Most of our group was headed to Bethlehem, but one American, Kristin and I were headed to the Dead Sea. The tour guide took us to a taxi. Based on my experiences in the morning, I figured they were going to take us to the bus where the rest of the people were going to the Dead Sea. After cruising past the border and driving through the Palestinian area of Jerusalem, it became pretty clear that we weren’t going to meet up with a bus. It was just the two of us off to the Dead Sea. Turns out Kristin was a professional volleyball player in Russia and also played for the US national team. She looks like she could be a professional volleyball player. At any rate, we were off to the Dead Sea and stopped a couple of times to get some pictures on the way. Oh yeah, we got to see something that most tourists don’t get to see: it was raining in the Judean Desert and at the Dead Sea.

The Judean Desert

Jericho

With our tour guide/taxi driver Hassan

One of these is Gatorade, the other is water from the Dead Sea. Guess which is which.

While at the Dead Sea, I made a couple of important discoveries. Actually I was told about this in advance, but since I’m a slow-learner, I had to experience it myself to make sure that it was true. Water from the Dead Sea tastes terrible and really burns your eyes. Don’t get it in them. It is a bad idea. The water was much rougher than I had expected, but that may have been connected with the rainy weather. There were whitecaps on some of the waves, which made it even harder to avoid getting water in your eyes and in your mouth. It was great though.

There was no one else there initially. After while, a group of American Christians on a church retreat showed up, but they kept to themselves and stayed away from us. As we were leaving the water, a group of Italian Goths showed up. Then just before we left the beach, a big group of people showed up. I don’t know what kind of group they were, but they looked conservative, heads covered and such. But we were on our way out, so I didn’t bother to investigate more. They had showers and locker rooms and stuff there, so I could wash off before we headed back. It was tough getting all of the salt off. One reason for this is that I forgot to bring any kind of soap or shower gel with me. Take note and if you go, be sure to take that with you. We left the Dead Sea at about 16:30 after having a couple of hours there. We met up with all of the others at a gas station on the way back to Jerusalem. Kristin headed back to Tel Aviv with the others in a big bus, whereas I continued on with Hassan back to Jerusalem with a couple of others. I got back about 17:30 and just had a quiet evening, digesting the events of the day. I had to grab another shower to get rid of the saline stink on my skin. But my skin felt great, whether after bathing in the sea, doing the mud bath, or rinsing off afterwards. It was a great day, maybe one of the best I’ve had. Now I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week. Oh yeah, the bottle on the left is the water from the Dead Sea. The other is the Gatorade.

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1 Comment

  1. Unknown

     /  10/12/2009

    1. Many people don\’t know that Jesus was kind of like Captain Planet and branded crosses on everything he touched.2. I am glad you mentioned that this girl was a volleyball player, otherwise I would have asked, "Why is that white girl holding a volleyball?"Nicholas

    Reply

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