We talked about how the walls surrounding the city had changed over time. During the time of Christ, these walls would have extended out further.
In front of the walls were different small buildings that would have been shops or something similar.
A bomb proof trash can - makes you feel extra safe.
Looking at the Western wall, in the shadows, and the Southern wall, of Old City Jerusalem.
In front of the Western "Wailing" Wall.
The Western "Wailing" Wall is a very sacred place to Jews. It was an honor to be allowed to be there. The women and men were separated into two areas. The woman's side was significantly smaller, and quite crowded. There was a sign as you entered that asked that everyone be respectful and modestly dressed, but other than that, no special clothing was required for the women.
There were two white doves perched on the wall just out of reach. It was very symbolic of the peace and comfort that many find here.
Visitors to the wall often add little notes to the cracks and crevices. Millions of notes remain, and thousands litter the ground. It is humbling to think each of those little notes contain someone's prayers for peace, help, safety, courage, all the things we all pray for. It was a visual way to see how many prayers are said every single day. Notes that fall upon the ground are gathered each evening and burned.
We were also told that it has become a custom, in recent years, for women to not turn their backs to the wall. Melissa, Carly, Marlo, and I wanted to respect any and all customs, but we were not sure how long we needed to back out before it was acceptable to turn around. We tried to do what others were doing. We felt a very real need to be respectful of this most holy of holy places for many people.
The men were asked to cover their heads. If they did not have something, -surprisingly a ball cap would suffice- a commemorative Kippah was provided by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. It is one of our favorite souvenirs.
On the men's side of the Wall, there is a special area inside. Our guide took them in and this is where they were able to see several men with small boxes on their heads, and leather strapping on their arms. We learned in our seminary class about how this tradition dates back to before the time of Christ. The idea is to keep the word of the Lord close to your mind (thus the box on the forehead), and wrapped about you (the leather strapping on the arms have scriptures written on them). The boys, all three who are in my seminary class and studying the New Testament every school morning at 6am; were blown away to find that these practices are still done.
Just before we headed inside the Old City, we watched a young man propose to his girlfriend. It was almost as fun for us as it was them!
Entering into the Old City Walls.
Inside the Old City
Part of the Old City is Jewish, the other part Muslim. We arrived just before the Friday prayer for the Muslims, on the Muslim side. No big deal, except we seemed to be heading the opposite direction as everyone else. Our guide told us to walk quickly, because pretty soon, we'd be like fish trying to swim upstream, as all those of the Muslim faith would be heading to prayer, just behind us.
The Muslim side had lots of shopping in really close quarters. We were surrounded by amazing smells, colors, and sounds. All kinds of languages; Hebrew, Arabic, English, tourists speaking their own language. Apparently, the Muslim and Jewish people intermixed for shopping and such, but living quarters are kept extremely separated. Not by law, just by custom.
There was much less commotion in the Jewish Quarter.
We stopped for Flafel for lunch - of course. We learned very quickly on this trip that the people of this region, most of it, were very easily agitated and things elevated quickly - well, buy US standards. We also learned, that just because someone is yelling and screaming and in your face, doesn't mean that anyone will start swinging. That's just how they handle things - with volume.
I'll admit to being a little jumpy. We're in Israel where it is known to be a little violent. Police are walking around with automatic weapons. I was a little "on guard" the whole time, so this yelling and screaming in a language that I didn't understand - did make me a little nervous.
This lunch place was no exception. Apparently one of the workers didn't show up, and the guy who was supposed to leave had a soccer game to go to - so people were screaming and yelling. Our guide was yelling at one of the workers about one of the orders, it was crazy. All in this teeny-tiny little Flafel joint. Regardless - that food was amazing! Itai really knows the places to go for yummy grub!
These little cinnamon croissants were no exception. Delish!
We then headed through Zion's Gate and over to the area where the Last Supper was eaten.
This little tiny "gate" is actually a road, and cars drive through it. Crazy!
Andrew inspecting the bullet holes (some with bullets inside) outside of Zion's Gate.
Walking through the streets inside the walls of The Old City.
The Room of the Last Supper where Christ blessed the bread and wine, teaching the apostles about the sacrament. It was a very simple, smaller room with ornately carved architecture.
Our next stop was Bethlehem. Currently, Bethlehem is under Palestinian control and Israeli citizens are not allowed to enter. Not because of Palestinian law, but because of laws set in place by the Israeli government to protect it's people. It isn't safe for an Israeli to enter in any area under Palestinian control.
Our guide is Israeli, and we're going in there? Alone? Without Itai? But the only reason I feel safe in this crazy place is because of Itai.
He tells us that the driver has special permission to go across into Bethlehem. The driver will drop Itai off just outside the security checkpoint, where Itai will sit and work on his iPad. We'll then go into the city to a store, where we'll change vehicles and be taken with a completely different driver and a new guide, into the church.
Then when we come back to the store, it would be customary - however, by law, not required, to tip the new guide. He told us the appropriate amount. Then it would be nice if we did some shopping in this store for souvenirs.
Next thing I know, Itai is off the bus and into this 'forbidden land' we go. We cram into this van - all 9 of us plus the driver and guide and head to the Church of the Nativity. We apparently can not drive the way we had intended because it has been blocked off by barricades and heavily armed police. Our driver begins screaming and yelling at these - extremely armed guards - something I'm not so sure we should be doing. They have big guns!
Next thing we know, we're out of the van and speed hiking it up this hill. Itai is trying to get us to every site we wanted to see, while still allowing the kids to hit the Dead Sea, drive the 1 hour back to our boat (due to the change in port) and be on the ship before they sail off. I am sure he instructed this new guide to get us there and get us back, so we are bookin' it.
On our way up the hill, we saw "Stars & Bucks Cafe"
and some local Scouts
When we near the church, we see a beautiful massive Christmas tree covered in red decorations. Apparently, the very next day was the Armenian Christmas. How cool is that?
We entered the church through the old entrance. It was this small little cubby that was made tiny so that large animals would not enter. We were also told that it made people bow as they entered. Who knows the real reason - maybe both.
Inside was a sight to behold. This single structure is owned by three different churches.
The Armenians seem to have the center section and have it decked out for their Christmas Celebration.
Another group owns the left side - less decorations.
This is the exit door for the below ground site where it is believed that Mary gave birth to Jesus.
The right side of this church was the entrance to the underground birth site. It was full of likenesses of Mary. Here we are waiting our turn to walk down.
The walk down was a nightmare for people like me who have anxieties about small, enclosed, crowded places. I thought I might crawl right out of my skin. Everyone was pushing and crowding down into a narrow hallway. The smells coming out of that area were intense. All sorts of incense, combined with the smells of different cultures of people all crowded into one tiny little area.
Everyone was trying to get to this rock. See the woman in the photo? She is reaching out to touch a grey stone that is surrounded by a metal star. Apparently, that is THE spot where Christ was born - and everyone wanted to touch it. Yes, I touched it. I touched all the rocks. I also used lots of hand sanitizer.
This is the manger area. It was a lot less crowded in that underground space. The manger area would have been to the right in this photo. There was a stone there as well.
The scouts were out ready for some type of celebration. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea was calling - so we couldn't wait around and watch.
The last site in Bethlehem was the area where the shepherds would have been grazing their flocks when they first saw the star signifying the birth of our Savior. That was pretty cool to see.
We just pulled the van over to the side of the road and got out for a few photos. The kids decided to stay in the car "We can see it from here". Getting in and out of the van was too much work for them.
We headed back to the souvenir shop and spent more than enough money to properly thank them for taking us around, got back in our own comfortable bus, made it through the security checkpoint without any problems, picked up Itai, and headed to the Dead Sea.
It was a little bit of a drive down there. Maybe 30-45 minutes from Bethlehem. It gave the kids time to just sit and relax. The wifi on the bus was a welcomed reprieve for these technology kids.
Just as the kids start wading in the water - and Greg and Ron are video taping and taking pictures - this guy walks right in front of the camera.
Hello there Underwear Man.
The girl's faces here are priceless. They've just seen Mr. Undies.
Carly is like, "Wahhhh?"
Marlo, "Oh my gosh!"
Undies or no undies -we were grateful he was at least WEARING undies- it didn't stop the kids from having a blast in that cold water.
Andrew is a sinker. He can't float if his life depended on it. So floating was a new experience for him. He loved it.
Marlo's face here is my favorite. She's having a blast!
We, the parents, really wanted a shot of all the kids floating in the water holding hands. The classic Dead Sea photo photo. Marlo was cold. We were trying to convince her to float again...
When here comes Mr. Undies with his good buddy Mr. Tighty Whitey, swimming their way into our photo.
Sometimes, when you see a picture, it is hard to judge distance - but trust me - this guy was waaay to close to our kids.
The salt water was making him a little itchy. One of these days, I will have to Photoshop out Team Tighty-Whiteys, so we can have a good picture of the kids.
Finally, one last beauty for your viewing pleasure:
On our way out of the Dead Sea, we stopped for gas. There was a man and his two boys right there ready to give rides on their camels. We didn't have time for a ride - but they let us get on and take pictures for a small fee.
Every one of us - except Greg - got on a camel. Every one of us - except maybe Ron, were not expecting the drastic forward and reverse lean of the camel when it stands up and down. It did make for some funny pictures if it was caught on camera. Case in point: Marlo's face below
It's all fun and games until he sits back down.
Here is the moment my boys thought they'd fall off.
Yes, I got on the camel. You can't have been to the Dead Sea and not gotten on a camel. It's a rite of passage I think.
The kids slept most of the way on the long journey back to the ship. We were all pleasantly exhausted after 2 amazing days in Israel. When we arrived back to port, we were greeted by a "Gangam Style" conga line. Unfortunately, none of us had enough energy left to get jiggy...
It truly was an unforgettable 2 days. If you ever want to know more about it - or browse through thousands upon thousands of photos - feel free to give me a call. We LOVE talking about our experience there. We have to try really, really, hard not to talk about it constantly. It was THAT good!