I will get started on this day – and then go to dinner. Folks are wanting to eat earlier than usual. Exhaustion is setting in, I think. It was another long day today – but we are most certainly getting the most out of our time in Israel.
We began this morning changing up our already revised plans. Andre wanted to start at the Church of All Nations (Gethsemane) so that we could experience that beautiful church without the zillion tourists who have descended on this country. I really struggle to believe that there is an unused bus anywhere in Israel. Can they have any empty hotel rooms? I doubt it.
But, that was a great call made by Andre. The church was empty and we were able to enjoy some quiet in contemplating the Thursday night of passion week. It was lovely. Of course, he had hoped we could move up our time in the private garden across the street, but we had an 11:00 am appointment – and we had to keep it, not change it. So we got back onto the bus and made the journey to the top of the Mt. of Olives.
Talk about a zoon. IT WAS A MESS. I’ve never seen it like it was today. It was inch by inch in the bus along the crest of the Mt. of Olives. People everywhere. Taxis. Cars. Buses. Buses. Buses. Yikes. Finally we got near our destination (the overlook of the Old City) and we just got out of the bus and walked. Of course, the second we reached our stopping point….there was our bus. So walking didn’t help at all – except to add to our daily total, and wear us down a bit. Meandering was an adventure.
Finding a “quiet” place to talk was tough too. But we managed to find some space and Andre explained all the things we were seeing before us. Then it was walking back a bit to the Palm Sunday Road….and a trek down the hillside. A stop (of course) at Dominut Flavit Church. The place where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. Andre found a quiet corner (unbelievably) and we talked about the site. The church (chapel) was closed for a mass so we couldn’t go in….so we wandered outside with several hundred of our closest friends.
Back onto the Palm Sunday Road and we were a little early for our 11 am appointment (we’d better not be early – perish the thought) so we stopped in the Russian Orthodox Church (the one with the onion shaped golden spires/domes). I must say the exterior is more impressive than the interior. There’s a lot of exterior fluff for a chapel that’s not all that big. Or impressive. But hey, it killed some time and gave us more steps to add to our day.
Back to the Palm Sunday Road and just around the corner to Gethsemane. We had to wait a bit (we were exactly on time) because the gate keeper must have been on some kind of break. Oh well. We did get the gate opened and were ushered to our spot under a tarp but in the grove of olive trees. We (as in I) talked about the account out of Luke and then we took 15 to be on our own. Wander. Pray. Whatever. Such a peaceful site….well, except for the noise of the busy streets right outside – horns and engines and more horns. But it was nice to have some quiet time on our own.
Back to the bus and now we headed to Bethlehem. Of course, the first goal of Bethlehem is LUNCH. I ate a light and quick breakfast, so I was very ready. We tried a new place which was actually fast and tasty. Chicken shawarma (or falafel). The shawarma as good. Not great. We got fries with it and a drink and water and a piece of baklava and a small coffee. What a deal. All for $11. That’s a price we are used to by now. After the price for a burger yesterday, we now think this is a steal. But it was nice.
Then we walked across the street to the Shepherd’s Fields. There you have natural caves just like the one that somewhere in that area, Jesus was born. I missed the explanation because I can’t count. We were only 15 by this point and I thought I made it to 15, but moving sheep are sometimes hard to count. So when I finally saw them all in a row and made my count, we were short one. I went back to the restaurant, I couldn’t find my lost sheep. So I went back to the group, but the missing sheep was still not there. So back to the restaurant…..and yay, the lost sheep was found. So back to the Shepherd’s Field. We had moved caves, but it was an easy find.
Back from dinner. It was good. The selection is more limited here – but the quality is good I think. No one is complaining (yet). But I got to talking at my table (Budd’s and then Kevin’s friend, Mark Benedom, came over). So we talked Redeemer (the church of my formative years which Kevin pastored for a very, very long time. And then some theology. It was too late for a walk (for me at least) and so we went up to the roof and now I need to get stuff done (so much for an early to bed night). And they decided to go to the Church of Holy Sepulcher at 6 am. So I will be up early. It is supposed to be very nice at that hour. I’ll let you know. Back to the day today…..
After the caves (we even sang), we headed to the olive wood shopping store. I’d been there before, but it seemed different this time (smaller). I think it was just a different branch or something. They are always very nice, but I didn’t see anything I really liked or didn’t already have, so I came out without anything. That’s a first.
We didn’t take too long shopping and headed over to the Church of the Nativity. We parked in the garage so we could walk thru the old city of Bethlehem. I think it was to remove every last ounce of energy that might be left in our legs for this Tuesday. It’s a bit of an uphill hike. And the prize? A church we really couldn’t even see because it was wall-to-wall people. The “front” door is open again so we stooped to enter. The line down to “the cave” was at least an hour or two wait – something I’m not willing to do, and fortunately no one else was either.
We ducked out a side door and headed to the Roman Catholic Church so the group could sneak down into the other side of the same cave (where Jerome translated the Vulgate) and get a similar experience. I stayed up with a few folk so we could listen to a mass from India. Well, the line was long even to that cave and so I knew it would be crowded and I just didn’t want to chance a claustrophobic attack. So I volunteered to stay with those to whom more stairs was just not a pleasant option. So we sat on rock hard pews for 20 minutes or so until the group emerged from the cave. At least we could sit down and watch the people come and go.
We went back into the Greek Orthodox church for a mini-tour. Now the line for the grotto where “Jesus was born” was twice as long. Painful. We sat in the front of the church and Andre explained the highlights of its history and place in Christianity. Then we made our way back out the nave and ducked to exit as we had entered. Back to the bus.
Home was our next destination. Maybe we’d get back a tad early? Nope. Traffic. We were walking to our hotel at 5:33. Folks wanted an early dinner so we punted the dinner time to 6:30. But as you can see, I didn’t get back from dinner at anything close to an early hour. Oh well, it was a nice evening. Now it’s time to clean up after a long day and get to bed so I can be up and leading a group to church at 6 am. It’ll be an adventure I think. By 8:00 we have to be ready to meet Andre and walk thru the old city. An interesting day lies ahead. Not sure it has struck folks that we really only have three more days to tour Israel before heading to Jordan. There is so much more to see, but alas, we will be bidding farewell far too soon.