NILE BLOG 06

Saturday 6 October, 2012

“Jerusalem,” (according to an intro-pamphlet we got on the ship) “is the very soul of the inhabited world. A centre for prophet and pilgrim, king and caliph, mystic and warrior, the timeless city has endured a long, and often troubled, history. King David conquered the fortified Jebusite city. His son Solomon built the first temple in 586 BC. Nebuchadnezzar later destroyed it, but returning Jewish exiles rebuilt it under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah …”

The pamphlet goes on to list a succession of rulers and wreckers – leading up to the time of Jesus, when the Romans and their puppet king, Herod, were taking their turn. And then, of course, the present day, when Israel’s 5000-year-old walled capital is still sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians (more than one third of all the people on Earth).

Why am I telling you all this? Well, WE KIWIS WERE THERE … YESTERDAY … WALKING AROUND AS LARGE AS LIFE … ON THOSE SELF-SAME STREETS AND COBBLESTONES!

AND TODAY WE DID IT AGAIN … IN THE NAZARETH/GALILEE AREA … WHERE JESUS SPENT 80% OF HIS SHORT LIFE!

Yesterday began with our ship docking in Ashdod, Israel’s largest port and gateway to Jerusalem – and us cramming onto an air-conditioned coach for a 90-minute drive (on a very modern motorway) to the sun-baked, battle-scarred Old City. We stopped for some magnificent views atop the Mount of Olives (still covered in gnarly, centuries-old olive trees) … and walked through the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent the last moments before his arrest. We then motored up Mt Zion and entered the Old City on foot via the Dung Gate – arriving at the Western (Wailing) Wall (what’s left of the vast platform that once supported Solomon’s Jewish Temple, and now supports the Muslim Dome of the Rock mosque) – where we mingled with devout Orthodox Jews who were there in their hundreds (the men sporting black hats, bushy beards, long-sideboards, and tassels) to offer their Sabbath prayers.

We then followed-the-leader (Izik, our guide) through crowded narrow streets (including part of the Via Dolorosa, the ancient route Jesus took en route to his crucifixion) … and entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of Christ’s resurrection. (The original sanctuary built here by Emperor Constantine was destroyed centuries later, but a replacement was eventually rebuilt by the Crusaders.)

We departed through the Jaffa Gate, enjoyed a tasty hotel lunch, then climbed back on the coach for a brief drive to the ancient (now Arab) town of Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, built above the tiny cave where Jesus is said to have been born.

Phew! What a HUGE day! And 49 tired Kiwis were glad to return to their welcoming cabins and fall asleep between cool Egyptian-cotton sheets when it was finally all over.

But take a deep breath, folks, because TODAY was just as huge …

Our ship reached the northern Israeli port of Haifa around breakfast-time, and we were soon motoring through the Jezre’el Valley to Nazareth – childhood home of Jesus. Our visit included the Church of Annunciation, built on the site where Mary is said to have lived (and received the angel Gabriel’s message that she was carrying the Son of God) … and the Church of St Joseph, where Joseph’s small carpentry workshop is believed to have stood.

Next, we travel through Cana – where Jesus performed his first miracle (turning water into wine at a wedding) – to Yardenit, a beautiful site on the Jordan River where several Kiwis took to the famous water in their togs (and one of our ladies chose to be baptised, along with pilgrims from all over the world). After another restaurant lunch, we reached the shores of Galilee (across from the war-torn Golan Heights), before driving to Tabgha (where Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes).

The highlight of the afternoon was still to come: a one-hour ride in a wooden ‘Jesus-boat’ on the Sea of Galilee (complete with the raising of the New Zealand flag and the enthusiastic singing of our National Anthem).

Last but not least, we enjoyed quick stops at Capernaum (St Peter’s home-village and site of the ancient synagogue where Jesus once taught) and the Mount of Beatitudes (where Jesus preached his famous sermon).

An unforgettable two days? Yes, TOTALLY! But while these words and pix tell you what we DID and SAW, they can’t adequately convey how we FELT … being in this sacred city … touching those ancient stones … walking in the footsteps of Old-&-New-Testament saints and sinners … putting the familiar stories of Jesus in a new (and sometimes strange) context … standing/reflecting/worshipping alongside Orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall … soaking up the ambience in Galilee (Jesus-country) … getting goosebumps out there on the Lake … praying for peace in this beautiful, troubled land …

If you want to know how it FELT, you’re gonna have to ask us when we get home!

PEOPLE NEWS:

Two new nominees have walked away with quacky yellow ducks:

  • Peter C (not Peter T, who earned one two days ago) was spotted lining up with the ladies at the Old City security check-point (instead of with the men) … and is taking home the Midlife Madness ‘Wailing Wall Award’.
  • Catherine H was seen leaving the restaurant with a hot cup of tea in each hand. No problem there. Except that Catherine, who had watched a magician-show the previous night, performed a trick of her own – causing one of her cups to separate from its handle, smashing (and splashing) all over the floor, and winning her the Midlife Madness ‘Abraca-Dabra Award’.

TOMORROW:

We deserve a break, after all this high Israeli drama. So we’re gonna cruise all day – taking a north-east route through the beautiful Mediterranean … giving Syria a wide berth (for obvious reasons) … then curving back, eventually, towards southern Turkey and our next port-of-call: Antalya.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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