The bus came at 6 to take us to Tel Aviv, and on the way we stopped at a gas station/café, and I got the most delicious croissant I’ve ever had. Flakey and buttery…oh my!
We got to the airport just outside Tel Aviv on schedule, and then had to find the luggage storage to drop our bags off. I was expecting something fairly high tech, with bomb sniffing dogs and lockers or something, but it was basically just a big room where we piled all our stuff. There was also a sort of gift shop there, with a big sign on the door that said “sale” so we were wondering if our bags would still be there when we got back!
Then we found the shuttle stop, and caught a bus that would take us out to the main highway where we could catch a bus to Jerusalem. When one finally came, it was totally full, so we had to stand in the aisles, packed in like sardines, for the half an hour or more it took to get to the central bus depot in Jerusalem. It reminded me of being on the C-Train in rush hour…
When we got to the bus depot, we had to go through security to get out, and then at the top of the stairs we saw a McDonald’s! It was a happy moment, as that croissant hadn’t really been very filling. I got a McChicken, and while the fries tasted exactly like home, the burger was a bit different. It had two chicken patties with white meat, not a single patty with processed meat, and it had a tomato sauce instead of mayo, and tomatoes instead of lettuce. It was different, but still very good.
After the food stop, we went outside to find taxis to take us to the top of the Mount of Olives, and then we would walk down from there. We were in a hurry, as it was after 10 am already, and lot of churches and sites close from noon to 2 pm. There were only 10 of us – 8 Canadians and 2 Americans, so Dr. Chambers approached a couple of taxi drivers who were standing around and asked for a price. They said we’d need three cars at 70 shekels per car, and he tried to haggle a bit, but they wouldn’t come down, so we went and got in the cars. At this point, some kind of altercation broke out between our taxi drivers and another guy who was standing there – it seemed like maybe he thought that we should have gone in his cab? I’m not really sure what happened, but there was a lot of yelling and shoving and fists swinging, and then our driver hopped in the car and took off like nothing had happened…and he drove like a maniac, but apparently that’s the way everyone in Jerusalem drives…
Our first stop was the Chapel of the Ascension, which was a really small, simple domed building…built over the rock where Jesus left his footprint as he pushed off into heaven…there’s not really too much I can say about that! :)
Next we went to the Church of the Pater Noster (Latin for “Our Father”), which was pretty cool. They have tiles all over all over the wall with the Lord’s Prayer in something like 60 or 80 different languages, and our group said the prayer together in this neat underground cave that was part of the church.
We stopped partway down the hill for our first good look at the temple mount. I have got to say, being a Christian and just a wee bit of a Zionist, I have a really hard time seeing a mosque in such a holy place. Aesthetically speaking, it’s a beautiful building, but spiritually speaking, it gives me the creeps! Anyway, it was super cool to see it in person after looking at so many pictures of it over the years. It was a lot bigger then I had thought it would be.
We were really running out of time before noon and siesta time, and we made it to Gethsemane just in time. They don’t let people in after 11:45, and we just squeaked past. The building was very beautiful – lots of gilding and mosaics. I pictured the garden of Gethsemane as a place where I could go sit in the garden and meditate, but the garden belongs to the church, and when the bells began to ring the noon hour, we had to leave. I was kind of vexed by that, but I guess I’ll have to try going there again sometime.
From the road there you can also see the outline of the original City of David, which also includes Hezekiah’s Tunnel and Warren’s Shaft. I need to go back there and wade through the tunnel – I think that would be a fabulous adventure!
The road curves to follow the curve of the wall, and we went through security to get into the Western (or Wailing) Wall. Men and women have separate security lines, and separate sections of the wall to pray at. I was a little miffed to see that men have about ¾ of the wall, and women only have about ¼, and there were way more women there. There was a Bar Mitzvah happening on the men’s side, and there were a few women standing on chairs, looking over, so they could be a part of what was going on. Crazy, hey?
Anyway, I managed to find a gap in the people crowded around and get close enough to the wall to touch it. And that’s when it really hit me that I was actually there, and I started just crying. It made me think of Simeon, when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, and Simeon said:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
And it made me really sad, because I wonder how many of the people who were also there praying believe that the Messiah has already come? How many of them are living under the law because they don’t know any better? One of the organizations I support is called “Jews for Jesus” and they exist to reach Jewish people with the news that the One who fulfills all the prophecies is Jesus and that their Messiah has come. The prayer that’s been on my heart a lot recently is “That all may see and know”. We didn’t have long there because we had a lot of ground to cover, but I’ll definitely go back there, someday.
Further down the hallway and under the large main dome is a small chapel – a building within a building – which covers the place where they believe the tomb was. Also nearby is the rock on which they believe the cross was set. I’m told that there is evidence to prove that this likely is the location of those events. However, I had a hard time picturing it! The chapel over the tomb is falling apart, and due to the fact that there are three groups using the church and they never agree on anything, nothing is being done to fix it. I thought it was all very silly. Here’s a link to a book that was written hundreds of years ago by a man who feels the same way I do about it. The section runs from near the end of page 170 to near the end of page 172.
I crossed the street to get a bottle of water, and noticed some wooden nativity sets in a shop. I had sort of hoped to get one, so I counted my remaining shekels (200, plus 50 for supper and snacks) and when to look closer. The shop keeper invited us into the store and I mentioned that it was my last day in Israel, and I needed to get something small because I didn’t have much room left. He showed me one I liked, and when I asked how much it was, he said he would give me a good price because he likes Canadians, and that it was 480. I just about had a heart attack, and said that was too much, thanks anyway, and turned to go, forgetting that he would take that as an opening to haggle.
He asked how much I wanted to spend, and I told him honestly that I had a budget of 200 left. It was his turn to practically have a heart attack, and went on about how he needed to make a profit, and did I want him to have to eat bread without cheese? I was desperately trying to extricate myself and get out of there, and the closer I inched to the door, the lower his price came. Finally he was down to 270, and Jenn decided to grab that bargain for herself, because that was definitely the best price we’d seen anywhere.
But no matter how good of a price that was, I really didn’t have that much money, and I told him so. After he finished ringing up Jenn’s nativity set, he said to me that because he liked me and it was my last chance to get one, he’s let me have it for 250. I did actually have that much cash, so I took the deal. I felt pretty good about that – less then half price! I did tell him that I might not get supper though… :)
Next came our top-speed march through the city, trying to get back to the central bus depot in time to catch a bus back to the airport before the luggage storage place closed. We went out of the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, and I don’t know how many kilometers we walked, or how long it took, but after a full day of walking, by the time we got there, I wasn’t sure if I could go any further, my feet hurt so much! We had to go through security again, and then we had just enough time to restock our water supply before the bus came. With a little creative wrangling (Israelis don’t treat line ups the same polite way Canadians do) we all managed to get on the bus and get seats together.
I had meant to do email and update my blog, but by the time we got organized and got dinner, it was time to start going through security, which was quite the ordeal. We were standing in the first line, a baggage screening process, when some security people came up to us and started asking questions. They collected all our passports, and took Dr. Chambers aside to ask him some questions, and did the same thing with another member of our group. Thankfully they gave us back our passports and let us go through to baggage screening. They ran our luggage that we were checking in through an x-ray, and then pulled most, if not all, of us aside for a manual baggage search. They wanted to know what I’d bought, where I’d gotten it, and how many jars of honey I had. They were particularly interested in the things I’d bought in Jordan, even thought I hadn’t yet said that’s where they were from, which I thought was interesting.
Finally they were done with that and we got to go check in with the airline and get our boarding passes. Then we had to go through another security checkpoint, although I can’t remember what that one was for – they’re all starting to run together. I think that was comparable to regular Canadian carry on screening. Then we went through passport control where they stamped our passports, and then through another checkpoint where they checked the stamp we’d just gotten.
By this point we were only a few minutes away from boarding, so I still didn’t have time to update my blog! It was quite the time consuming ordeal…
I had a good seat with lots of leg room, even though I was separated from the rest of the group, and I was so tired I was asleep before we left the ground.
Speaking of tired…it’s now past my bedtime and I’m exhausted. More to come in Major Update Part III (or Homecoming Musings).