I am all packed up for the big trek to Jordan in the morning. Like, really early in the morning. We have to have our bags outside the room at 6:15. Benny wants to be on the way by 7:00. At the border by 8:00. Oh boy.
Today was a day when we were back on the bus. It was a bit nice, actually. Our guide for the day was Nazar. Not sure of the spelling, but it sounded like that. He is an Arab Christian from Bethlehem. Our destination was Samaria – Mt. Gerazim, Shechem, and Sebastia. On the way we got his take on the politics in Israel and Palestine. It was interesting – and good to hear a fresh side. What a complicated mess.
Our first stop was on top of Mt. Gerazim. It is the southern of the two peaks – Gerazim and Ebal. It was on the slopes of these two mountains that Joshua gathered the people to read antiphonally the blessings and cursings of Deuteronomy. The day was just beautiful – clear skies, not a ton of haze, and a cool breeze all day long. So, on the top of Mt. Gerazim, the views were wonderful.
We could see down in Nablus – the third largest city in the Palestinian territories. We could see a refugee camp down below us. We could see Tel Balata, which we know as ancient Shechem. It was just a deserted little patch of brown from our perch above. It was a great lookout point. And, Fouod made it easy, backing up our bus along a narrow road with a steep drop-off. What a driver!
We weren’t there too long, but I did pull out the IGM map (something new for this adventure). Back on the bus we headed to the Greek Orthodox Church built over Jacob’s well. Yes, that Jacob’s well. Dug by Jacob. Visited by Jesus as was looking for water and struck up a conversation with the Samaritan woman. The church is lovely, actually. The same priest has been there each time I’ve visited. He’s overseen a lot of work on the site – including a new roof in the past ten years. And that’s a big deal.
After the church (with horrible chairs and ugly pulpits) we headed to Tel Balata, Shechem. I’ve been there a couple of times – but this time the Visitor’s Center was open, and the museum. Wow. The curator (I guess) was there and VERY welcoming to us. He was thrilled to have some guests I think. The Palestinian Authority has put together a film (like the Israeli’s do at their national parks) so he turned it on for us in their theater. It was about 10 minutes long I would guess. And it was ok. Not great, and not horrible. Although in going through the history of the tel, they did omit one important aspect – the biblical aspect. No mention of Abraham or Jacob or any of the things which make the site worthy of a visit from us. Marketing needs to trump politics if they are going to attract visitors. Oh well…..
We then walked around the tel. There is not a whole lot to see (at least Nazar didn’t have too much to say about it). I did a devotional on commitment – from the end of Joshua and his charge to the people. There is a stone there which at least previous guides (well, Andre) says could well be authentic from the account. So I run with it.
After climbing back on the bus, we headed for Sebastia. We would call it Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel for a stretch of time. We toured the ruins before lunch – and I promised the best lunch of the trip, but then we went to a different restaurant. Hmm…..
There is not a ton to see at Sebastia. It is not well kept up and a bit desolate. But the views of the hill country were stunning today. Worth the trip. But Sebastia was rebuilt by Herod the Great – so they’ve got some amazing Roman ruins under there somewhere. They could make it a big tourist stop – but that costs money.
By the way, many of the houses we saw in the PA (Palestinian Authority) are really quite nice. Multi-story single family homes with some land. And then there is this castle up on the hills above Nablus. Somebody as a lot of money….just saying….
We were able to see some of the ruins of Herod (not a ton), including the amphitheater. We saw the remains (steps) of the shrine he built for Augustus. And then I think we saw the palace of Omri – but Nazar didn’t say that, I just remembered it.
Now it was time for lunch. And at a new place. Well, it was amazing as advertised. Sweet (and whew). The wheat soup was delicious. Then the salads and “pizza” and chicken and rice. It was amazing. With the Palestinian bread…oh wow. Best meal of the trip. And not really that much -- $17, including drink. And then the owner, by sheer force of his powerful personality, got us to shop in his store. And spend some bucks. Of course, he’s an Alabama fan, so he didn’t get my money. Just kidding. I asked for Olive Oil, and he did give me about a two-liter bottle (in a two-liter water bottle). Hmmm. He was going to take it to the USA but rand out of room in his suitcase last month. So I get to take it. Uh….my suitcase is pretty full too. Oh well, I will manage.
On the drive back to Jerusalem, I had the bus pull over at Shiloh. It’s a Jewish settlement, and this being Shabbat, it was not open. But we got out of the bus and just looked around at the view. To me, that’s worth a lot. When you read about Shiloh now, you’ll know where it is and what it looks like. I shared a devotional to seal the moment.
We were not just about 17 miles from Jerusalem, so with each mile the rural Samaria became urban Jerusalem. We crossed the checkpoint (one of many) and made it back into Israel proper. We got back to the hotel about 4:30. We met to go for dinner at 6:30. So we had some free time.
At 6:30 we went out the Jaffa Gate (as is our routine these days) and to the bus stop. Then we were off to the Ambassador Hotel for a farewell dinner. Makluva was on the menu. They have great food at the Ambassador and we enjoyed our second feast of the day. It was nice.
On the way back to the hotel, Benny had Fouod stop at the Montefiore neighborhood. Home to a windmill overlooking Mt. Zion and the Old City. It’s quite an interesting story, how this rich young Jew in the early 1800’s bought some land and built some residences so those living in the tough Jewish Quarter could find more suitable housing. It took a while for it to catch on, but eventually the neighborhood grew and now it is really pricey. It was nice to look over the Old City at night. I didn’t get to do that enough this trip.
Back to the hotel. Time to pack up and head out of Jerusalem. Can’t believe it actually. We just got here. But our bus pulls out at 7 am and heads for the border with Jordan. We have a lot of driving on the docket for tomorrow. But at the end of the day we’ll be at the Red Sea for one night. That’ll be lovely. That’ll be interesting. That’ll be something new. Farewell, Jerusalem.