It is late tonight and I am just getting started with the daily blog. Oh well….it was a great day. We got to see some territory which I had only seen once – and that was years ago. The day really rounded out our picture of the land, and we still haven’t (and won’t) see the Shephelah. Oh well, another day.
We actually had a normal start to the day for a change. No tragedies. No rain. No changes in plans. Wow. We walked out to the bus pretty much on time and soon were back into the tour bus mode we had left when we arrived in Jerusalem a few days ago.
What is most amazing is that today is our last day of guiding with Andre. Unbelievable. We will see him on Monday when he takes us to border crossing to Jordan, but then it is farewell for a while again.
Our day began (and it was a beauty – perfect sky and temperature) with a drive down out of Jerusalem to the east. We passed Ramallah and got a glimpse at Shiloh on our way to Mt. Gerizim. We even drove up to the top of Mt. Gerizim, but being Shabbat, the site was closed, and not a car was moving in the Samaritan village. We got to see one young kid in his Samaritan outfit, but other than a sprinkling of women, that’s all we saw. There are only 800 Samaritans alive today, and now they are allowing intermarriage with Jews, to help the bloodline. It really didn’t look all that different from any other Jewish town we’ve seen, but they did have their own unique alphabet that was visible from time to time.
We drove back down the steep mountain and soon came to Nablus (or biblical Shechem). The scenery on the way was just beautiful all the way from Jerusalem. Large hills with olive groves and terraced hillsides. One valley was just flat and filled with agriculture. Another was apparently the home of wealthy American Palestinians – who built large homes here, but really just as vacation homes. That was amazing.
Anyway, we soon arrived in Nablus (Shechem). Our first stop was a Greek Orthodox church over Jacob’s Well. It is an authentic site, and really quite amazing The church is fairly new and modern, but underneath the altar area there are steps that descend to a simple, but ancient, well. It is actually very deep, it took water dropped from the top at least 10 seconds it seemed to hit the water of the well. I think it was like 140 meters deep. Andre did put the bucket down to retrieve water for us – and it was delicious. It was a great visit.
Next we headed for Joseph’s tomb. It is a little less likely to actually be his tomb than the well, but we stopped in anyway. It was simple. Quiet. And if it really was Joseph’s tomb, pretty amazing actually. To contemplate this being the burial place of Joseph is a bit overwhelming.
Back onto the bus after a short stop and we were headed to Tel Balata, ancient Shechem. This city has been mentioned much more than we realize. The stories seem to have no end once you start listing them. But it was another deserted tel, but interesting, with lots of shards waiting to be picked! We didn’t stay too long, but enjoyed the picture of the landscape around us – Mt. Gerizim to the south and Mt. Ebal to the north. The mountains of blessing and cursing. There is also a Joshua stone there, reportedly dating back to the time of the renewing of the covenant under Joshua. It was a powerful place to consider the need to worship God in spirit and truth – or with sincerity and integrity. We had just read John 4 at Jacob’s well, so to tie it into this place made a significant one for us.
Back to the bus and we had a bumpy (construction) half hour ride to Samaria/Sebastia. We arrived at the tel about noon – so it was time for lunch. I can’t remember the names of all we had – but I do remember it was very delicious. Very. Best lunch of the trip. So far. We started with wheat soup – and salads galore. And pita bread and this other large bread – thinner than pita and delicious.
Then the main course – that same large bread, with almonds and spices and olive oil and grilled chicken pieces on top. It was amazing. It was so good (the owner’s wife made the bread and his land produced the olive oil) that I had to purchase some olive oil to take home. And besides, Andre likes us to support this kind of business.
After lunch (did I mention how delicious it was) we were off to the tel to visit ancient Samaria – and Roman Sebastia. The views from up on the tel were amazing – we could see clear to Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea. And, of course, there was some shopping to be done at the entrance to the tel. Not much, but enough.
The tel was interesting – but it was just most interesting just to be in ancient Samaria, home of Omri for starters. There were also Roman ruins, as Herod the Great rebuilt the city as Sebastia.
After the tel stop, it was back to the bus and then back to downtown Nablus. It was time for a foot tour of modern Nablus – and the old city of Nablus. The sights and sounds of that vibrant city were amazing. The fruits and vegetables were so wonderful – and the breads kept calling out to us. It was busy. It was a little scary to be honest. But the people were friendly (we sort of stood out). We bought some halva (I’m taking mine home) and baklava (I was out of cash) and just enjoyed walking through the city center with Andre as our guide. Good time.
Then back to the bus and we were soon on our way back to Jerusalem. It didn’t take too long, but I just enjoyed the scenery. It is amazing to travel through the land like that – and especially on this corridor the patriarchs so often used.
Back to Jerusalem well after 5, farewell to Andre. He is going home tonight but will be back on Monday morning to see us off. Dinner was super crowded upstairs tonight, so we didn’t stay too long.
After dinner, Seanna, Kelly, Jeff, Erik, and I went out for a bit of an adventure. We walked over the King David hotel. The front door guy almost didn’t let us in. A bit snooty for my taste. We walked around a bit in the lobby – saw some celebrity pictures on the wall and signatures on the floor. Not really much to see. With the ending of Shabbat there was a bar mitzeh and lots of noise. So we left.
We then headed to the brand new (we found out) Waldorf Astoria. There we were greeting like royalty. They welcomed us into the hotel and was it every beautiful. Wow. It had only been open about a month, and it had a lovely eating area where we could sit on couches and chairs around a coffee table and order dessert. Which, of course, we did. Desserts aren’t a thing at our hotel, but hey, they liked desserts at the Waldorf. I had a raspberry (I think) cheesecake – and it was delicious. What a day!
We enjoyed sitting around and talking – then headed back to the hotel. I stopped in at the Mamilla Mall and made a purchase – and life has returned to Jerusalem. Lots of people out and bout and celebrating the end of Shabbat.
I am looking forward to the end of the day myself. It’s been a great day and the things we say and the landscape we covered was impressive and really interesting. We have a free day left in Israel – then it is off to Jordan. Can’t believe the end is so near. I want to enjoy tomorrow and every moment in it.