Tuesday, May 2, 2023

7:29 pm

I am done for the day.  I think we are all quite done for the day, though I was the first to leave dinner (shocking, I know….especially since I was the last to arrive). But dinner was delicious. I concentrated on the salad – and some “fried” chicken that was delicious….and they had mashed potatoes.  I was in food heaven. But I’m obviously back in my room and as soon as I finished the journal for today, I will be getting ready for some sleep.  Not too early, though, or the morning will start way too early for my taste.  I think the long walk (hike, explore) last night really wore folks out.  So we are all hitting the sack early tonight.

So, how about the day. This group is so amazingly prompt, we pulled out of the driveway ahead of schedule. Amazing. We drove around and about and up to the top of the Mt. of Olives. Ahmed kept us away from the bad traffic (he knows the area since he grew up there). We got our “first” glimpse of the Temple Mount while driving to the lookout point, and it was stunning.  The skies were so clear, I couldn’t believe it.  Lovely. And not a cloud in the sky.  It was a special day.

We were one of the first groups to get out in front of the Seven Arches Hotel (my first hotel ever in Jerusalem). We camped in a prime viewing location, and Manhal explained the history of what we could see and how it all ties together. After that, we took a group photo (Manny did) and then we started down the “Palm Sunday” route. The road is steep and has some turns, and cars. About half way down we stopped at the Dominus Flavit Church (where Jesus could first see the city on that Palm Sunday and stopped and wept. We got the church to ourselves and enjoyed some great photo time. The church overlooks the Dome of the Rock, but is slight off-center so that the cross in the window lines up with the Church of the Sepulchre.

We took some time to enjoy the view and take photos and then started back down the road, headed to Gethsemane.  We barely got into the church grounds when a friend of Manhal’s said we could go across the street to the private garden and have some quiet time in the far corner. We jumped at the opportunity. We found our spot way in the back and considered the significance of this area on the night Jesus was betrayed. No other group ever showed up so we had the entire property to ourselves…which seemed a bit odd. But we took advantage of it.

Then on the Church of All Nations. It’s lovely, as churches go. We spent a few minutes on the grounds and then inside…then back to the bus. So far on this day, we have moved freely and are not hindered by any crowds.  Wow.

Once on the bus we headed to the Dung Gate. The whole area is under construction (they are redoing the sidewalks), but it was not nearly as chaotic as usual.  I imagine folks are avoiding the area. We got out and headed to the archeological garden, aka the Temple Steps. It is a cool day, but being on the steps was very warm, almost hot.  Ok, it was hot on the steps. We found some shade and ready the woes of Jesus on the religious establishment of His day (Matthew 23). Then we walked around and took some pictures. We gathered back together and headed off to our next stop.  Most of us did. I caught my toe on a plank and took a minor spill.  I was –and am – completely fine.  Just don’t anyone tell Christie. But another tour guide helped me up.  That gave me a perfect opportunity to give Manny, our guide, some jazz and deserting me when I needed him most.  It was funny (to me at least). I am fine.  DO NOT WORRY about me. The only thing that hurt was when I forgot and tried to kneel on my new knee…that’s always a killer.  But I caught up with group soon enough (and the two other dawdlers who were with me). Again, I am fine.

We went through the newly reopened museum in that space.  New movie. New exhibits. Air conditioning.  It was a nice change of pace.  Then it was back out the Dung Gate and down to the City of David. Three of us stayed up top.  Two chose the dry tunnel.  Seven opted for the wet tunnel – Hezekiah’s Tunnel. The ones who stayed up top voted to treat ourselves (Alyson treated us) to an iced coffee (discovered by Andrew in September).  It was refreshing.  I enjoyed the antics of a large group of elementary boys being boys.  They were very funny…until they asked me how old I was.  Rude.
After our drinks were downed, we walked down the road to meet up with the group. We found a short cut and ran into the dry tunnel people at the renovations for the Pool of Siloam. We poked around and then went to get some pictures of our rugged seven who walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. We made it over there and got some shots as they emerged.  They loved it (for which I was very relieved).

Back on the bus. One returned to the hotel for a nap (we really did overdo it last night). The rest of us headed for Bethlehem and all that entails – including a Shawarma lunch.  I’ve had better, but it was good. It is just crowded in that area and run down.  Poor folks.

Next stop was the Church of the Nativity. The crowds caught up with us, but we went around the side entrance to the main church and saw what there is to see. The line to go into “the” cave was several hours long, which I had vetoed long ago. We walked over to the Catholic church and then out and back to the bus. The parking lot was jammed with buses, but we managed to locate our bus and get off to the next stop.

Oh wait, I missed something. Right after lunch we went shopping.  Olive wood shopping. It was a very nice shop, with lots of lovely choices, though a bit pricey for our tastes.  But the staff was friendly with us anyway.  We didn’t make their day, I’m sure, but it was pleasant.

Ok, back to a chronological journey through the day.

The last stop was at Shepherd’s Field. The larger grotto was full and apparently we needed special permission to go to the spot that overlooks the fields and valleys of Bethlehem. We ended up in a small cave/grotto to hear the explanation and read Luke 2.  We even sang some Christmas carols. It was a nice end to the day.

We drove on back roads to return to the hotel.  Ahmed, even at 25, knows his way around. It was interesting and it saved lots of traffic as the workday was winding down for the locals. We made it back to the hotel about 5:20 I guess.  Dinner at 6:30 (by choice). And as I already said, it was delicious.

So now I get to head to bed, earlier than ever on this trip. That is good news.  We are off to Shiloh and Samaria in the morning.  8:00 am on the bus.

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