I've said this before - and will probably say it a million times again - our guide, Itai, was A-MAZ-ING!
Our first stop after lunch was a place called Beit She'an. Itai asked if we were ready for a little hike, and of course the kids were all over that. So he calls his contacts at this next place and has them come and open the back gate for us.
We don't know anything about Beit She'an, so we're just along for the ride at this point. We later realize that Beit Shean is the Beth-shan from 1Samuel; where the Philistines, after finding the body of King Saul, behead him and then hang is body on these walls. 1Samuel 31:10 "And they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan". Wow, right? But we don't make this connection just yet...
We come upon these old stone streets and broken columns, just lying around. We're thrilled to be walking along ancient roadways and thinking about who could have possibly been here before us. The weather was beautiful, the area was stunning and history just ooozed from this place. The walk was energizing and we were all very excited!
We stop at the base of this hill and Itai teaches us about "Tels" and how this "hill" behind us is actually a Tel. Tels are basically layers upon layers of civilizations. Once one civilization was conquered, the new occupants knocked down everything and built on top. This happened numerous times in the same spot creating a "hill". I believe he said that there were 16 in this one Tel!
We were so impressed with all the little remnants of ancient life that we saw.
Itai lead us up to the top of the Tel and, as we rounded the corner, had us do a "Trust Walk". We all turned to the side and finished rounding the bend facing the opposite direction.
When he told us to turn around we were BLOWN AWAY! We are at the top of this Tel and overlooking an entire city of ruins! I think there was a unified gasp as we were all in awe.
We were so excited to learn we could actually go down there and walk around. The kids were all saying, "We can go down there?" "They'll let us walk in that?" "No Way!" "Dude - Can you believe this?" I love that they were completely engaged the entire trip. I love that history means something to these kids. It was a proud mommy moment.
Walking in the paths of people from long, long ago!
Here we are in the city looking back on the "Tel" where we first witnessed this amazing site.
One of the group's favorite spots was the Bathhouse, of course.
We were taught about how the water ran through the larger drain in the back for your "business" to be washed away, and how water ran down the narrow groove in the front that would be used to wash yourself. You wash with your left hand - and shake with your right.
Yes boys, just like that...
There was talk about how you might see some hot chick and want to ask her out, and how it would be fine to do it while you were using the bathhouse facilities. "Hey pretty lady! How about when we're done here, I take you to dinner." Gross, boys. Just Gross.
It was a co-ed bathroom :)
We tried to convince the kids to sing for us on stage in the amphitheater, but they wouldn't.
It amazed us time and time again, that we were just allowed to walk through and ON these tiny little pieces of history. Little 1"x1" tiles that had been hand laid 5-6,000 years ago - and we're just walking on them like they're gravel...
Our Jewish guide also pointed out the swastika symbols on the ground. Andrew mentioned that the symbol stood for "Be Well" and only had positive connotations until the Nazi's adopted it as their symbol. Another proud mommy moment.
A scale model of the entire area. We only saw the area in the center of the model. The rest is all still underground. There is no intention of continuing to uncover the rest as homes are built above them.
Our next stop was Nazareth.
It was not at all what I expected. I don't know what I expected - maybe a quaint little village? Apparently, it isn't the same as it was in biblical times. Who knew?
We were heading to the area where Mary lived. This was, of course, inside a huge church.
We walked up the hill to the church and found this little welcome sign:
It appeared that the end of the sign had been recently changed. Itai thought that perhaps the word 'accepted' had been changed to 'accebted' due to the difficulty of making the "p" sound, as it is not found in the Muslim language.
This was one of my favorite spots.
I felt like the church here managed to maintain the integrity of where it is believed that the angel Gabriel first appeared to Mary. Silence was expected. The room itself was simple, yet beautiful. It was a large open area with part of the original Byzantine church walls exposed. The entire focus was on the center of the room where you were could walk down to the home of Mary. It had been well preserved and was gated off. They added an alter, and some support beams, but for the most part, Mary's home was left in tact. I was able to really feel the spirit in this area. I think the lack of distractions (incense, chanting, hanging decorations) helped with that feeling.
A really cool photo taken by our friend Ron Caudle. This is looking toward Mary's home from the main level.
Looking in through the gate at Mary's home.
In the second floor of this church, there was a regular chapel. It was stunning. Many countries had donated murals depicting Mary to this church. It was interesting to see how each part of the world tried to incorporate something about their region into their art. There were some amazing pieces on display.
Outside of the church, they had additional ruins that were uncovered from the neighboring homes and streets. It was fun to think that Christ as a child would have romped around these streets.
We needed a little refueling, so Itai ran into a little market and grabbed some fresh Baklava.
OH MY YUM!
That wrapped up day 1. What an unforgettable birthday! We headed back to the ship, exhausted and excited for day 2! We'd meet Itai at 6am the next morning...
We got back to the ship to find a monkey hanging out in the boys' room! What a perfect ending to an amazing day!