I am ready for dinner and the pictures for today are uploading to the website, so I can get a jump on the journal for today. I must say it was a great day. With the shifting for Yom Kippur in a couple of days, this one worked out really well. It was like “taste of the wilderness” day – without the jeep! Masada – Arad – Herodium. All in the wilderness, with a taste of the Judean hills as we passed Hebron and are sleeping in Bethlehem. I think it’s a great itinerary day (and I’m thinking everyone agreed with me).
The day started as it usually does. Breakfast at 7 (and our bags out) and we left at 8. Breakfast was amazing – a huge buffet again (as the hotel always does). We are pleasantly surprised by how Uncrowded the hotel was – and all our stops today as well. I think coming around these Jewish holidays is not a bad thing. Well, it’s hot here in early October, but it really was too bad today. There were some cool breezes on top of Masada. No joke.
We were on our way early (as is the habit of this punctual…really…early group). The guide and the host are usually the last ones on the bus (and we beat the deadline – just to be clear). We were on our way to Masada before 8. Don Shoff did another great devotional, using Psalm 139 as the foundation. We were certainly ready for another great day of touring.
We were the first tour bus at Masada (and I’m not sure there were all that many there when we left). Got the first shot at the movie and close to the first cable car up to the top. And it was us 12 and maybe 4-6 other people. Delightful. This crowd-a-phobic person is loving these little blessings. It’ll change I’m sure – but I’ll take it while I can.
There was cool breeze at the top. Well, it was comfortable. Cool might be pushing it. We sat and heard the history of Masada and the Jewish rebellion and the Roman occupation. I must say I think we had one of my favorite mornings on top of Masada. Andre did a great job, we relaxed our way through it, got to take the time to walk down to the northern palaces – and we didn’t fight any crowds. But I think I may have mentioned that already.
Anyway, we explored Masada – the store rooms, palaces, original frescoes, synagogue (there was a scribe all set up in there copying Hebrew texts. I must say it looked a bit fake, but he might have just been going over previous text). It was a great morning. Down the siege ramp we went. Tarek (our driver) had taken over an hour to drive around to the back side of Masada to pick us up. Of course, with all our walking and steps to the palaces, it was time for Magnum bar, white chocolate, of course.
Back on the bus for the trek to Arad. It was getting to be lunch time – and the eating options (for tourists) is somewhat limited on that side of Masada. This is not a high volume tourist area. But our bus driver knew what to do and dropped us at a mall. We voted to just follow Andre wherever he went – so we tried a burger joint in the mall. They only took shekels – and a charge card – so I treated for lunch (and got generously reimbursed, I must say, in cash). I’m rich! It wasn’t too bad, though, about ten bucks a person for a burger, drink, and fries. And, the food wasn’t half bad.
We finished lunch in our allotted 45 minutes (which is really good for this itinerary-packed host). And we were on our way a bit north to Tel Arad.
Just back from dinner. It was good, actually. Not nearly as much selection – but there aren’t nearly as many guests in this hotel either. So now as soon as I finish this up I can hit the sack. Guess what? We have another long day of touring tomorrow. Wow.
So….we headed up to Tel Arad after lunch. The landscape is rather barren – but there was the hint of rich agricultural land here and there. The tel is quite easy to see up in the hills ahead. There is a structure (Israelite) which dominates the top of the tel. What is most impressive, however, is the size of the tel. it is huge. And the large size was due to the Canaanites who lived there during the days of the Exodus and before. There are remnants of a huge wall and towers to defend the city. During the days of the kings of Judah, the Israelites came and built a fortress (to defend their southern border) on top of the Canaanite ruins.
It’s a great site – which provides a great opportunity to do some study of the map. And, guess what? We were the only bus in the parking lot. The road less traveled – that’s a plus in my book. We are learning The Land.
But, what’s also intriguing about Tel Arad is the Israelite structure found in that top fortress. It is another high place, built in the exact dimensions of the Tabernacle/Temple in Jerusalem. The First Temple at least. It is amazing to see that structure and get a feel for the size of the original building. Of course, it should never have been built – and was done in direct disobedience to the Word of God. But these days it is interesting at least.
We finished with our pictures of the temple and were back on the bus for the trek to Herodium. Stop #3 I our wilderness day. The drive from Arad to Herodium is Andre’s favorite in Israel. I understand why, but I still couldn’t keep my eyelids open the entire way. We get to skirt Hebron. We see the dramatic change from wilderness to agricultural land. From large farms to family farms. From crops to vineyards and olive groves. From flat lands to terraces. It’s interesting. And beautiful in its own way.
It took about an hour to drive to Herodium, which is located in the outskirts of Bethlehem. We are back in the West Back. We are on the “other side” of the Israeli wall, built in 2002 for many reasons – but mainly to prevent terrorists from sneaking across into Israel and killing Israelis. And, it sort of worked (that was an editorial comment, btw).
We got to Herodium (and to continue the theme of the day) we were the third bus there. And the second bus really didn’t count. It was a mini-bus. It wasn’t crowded at all, and we enjoyed seeing whatever we wanted on the artificial mountain built by Herod. In 2007 they discovered the tomb of Herod, which was rumored to be there by Flavius Josephus. We walked to the top, checked things out – and then walked down into the cisterns and tunnels and out near the tomb of Herod the Great. Of course, we had to walk another long way around to get to the tomb which was right next to us. Oh well, some day those two points ought to connect. Some day. But it ain’t today.
You can see the foundation stones of the monument to Herod, and a model of what they think the tomb looked like. It is interesting. Hopefully we can see some of the real artifacts in the Israel Museum (tomorrow). We have lots of things to see there – everything we see out in touring is a “reproduction.” “The original is in the Israel Museum.” Well we will find out tomorrow how accurate THAT statement has been.
Done with Herodium we wind through the streets of Bethlehem to find our hotel. It is a grand structure, originally built in 1910 (I think that’s what he said). It’s a bit quirky, but nice for one night. It could use a little attention to detail, but dinner was good and the rooms are large. It’ll be nice to get to Jerusalem tomorrow.
I did take a peek around things before dinner with Christie. We explored things and got a feel for this hotel. It is a little tired in spots, but could be magnificent. It’s nice to be here to support Palestinian Christians and their economy.
Tomorrow we will visits the Shepherd’s Field, then olive wood shopping (some can’ wait), and then the Church of the Nativity (also, a highlight for some, but not for me). Then we will head into Jerusalem. Maybe an overlook to whet the appetite – and then on to Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum. They will be closed for a couple of days due to the Jewish holiday, so we’ll catch them tomorrow and not miss out.
So guess what? We have another full day tomorrow. Museums can be exhausting! Right? But we will be in Jerusalem tomorrow and one of the most exciting portions of our trek through Israel. I’m ready.
Tomorrow night? The Western Wall. It's tradition!