The hour is late now.  I’m beat.  But it has been another rich day in The Land.  It started in the Dead with a cloud cover which never let up all day.  What a blessing that was on the top of Masada.  And it ended with a warm evening walk to the Western Wall.  What a treat to walk from our hotel room to the wall and back again.  Wow.  We thankfully has six nights to spend in the same hotel, so that itself is a blessing.

So the day began for me on the roof of the Daniel Hotel in Ein Bokek on the Dead Sea.  Breakfast there was delicious and we were ready pretty much on time to head to Masada.  We weren’t the first group on site, but close to it.  We enjoyed the movie and then headed to the cable car for our trip up the mountain.  The cloud cover certainly aided our day today.  It was warm on top but not hot.  It was a great day for pictures on the mountain because there was not a shadow to be found.  Ken was in archeological heaven and thoroughly enjoyed the morning on Masada. 
Before too long it was back to the cable car to head down the mountain.  I hadn’t takent he cable car down in a while, so that was nice.  We usually walk down the back, but with no stop on that other side, there was no reason to do that.  Good advice, Andre.

We headed north toward Jericho, seeing the line on the rocks from the 1920’s which showed clearly a greatly diminished Dead Sea.  Then, just south of Jericho, it was up to Jerusalem.  Well, not exactly.

Our driver, Behir, is from Bethlehem, so we were able to take some interesting side roads to Herodium.  It was breezy again up on the mountain – but not cold.  That was a refreshing change from two years ago – when Herodium was way too cold and windy for a decent visit.  There is now a movie which helps tell the story, but it was too crowded upon arrival, so we watched it on the way out.

Had a good visit on Herodium.  They are doing a good deal of excavating these days – at the site of Herod’s tomb and then up at the top, uncovering the gate area.  It is going to be even more interesting in a few years.  I was able to share some thoughts about the birth of Jesus and Herodium.

Then it was down through the water cisterns and escape routes to the level of Herod’s tomb.  Not really much to see there – but they have uncovered a theater just below the “tomb.”

Back to the bus and movie (with a bunch of rude children).  Next it was time for lunch.  And that means Bethlehem schawarma.  It was new place, just outside Shepherd’s Field.  Andre insisted I eat with him and Behir, so I couldn’t refuse.  We enjoyed quite the feast. 

It was just a very short walk to Shepherd’s Field.  Good overlook of Bethlehem, and we had a great visit to a cave.  It was/is so different from anything formal and in a religious setting, but we enjoyed our time together there.  We sang a couple of Christmas carols too – hey, we’re in Bethlehem, right?

Back to the bus and off to the olivewood store.  Our store was run/owned by the grandson of the merchant who purchases the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Bedouin folks who found them.  Interesting story.  The biblical coins were a little too pricey for my budget.  Some day.

Back onto the bus for a short drive over to the Church of the Nativity.  We got off the bus a bit away from Manger Square, and we got to walk through the old city of Bethlehem.  What a great little town, at least in this Christian section.  It was interesting – the doors and windows and Santa on the wall and chickens and rabbits and close quarters with cars.  Great little educational tour.

Soon we were in Manger Square, with all its hustle and bustle.  The church is undergoing some renovations – I think they are finally repairing the roof.  IT’s probably needed it for 150 years, but there is finally some sort of agreement I guess.  But it is pretty major and the pillars inside are covered up completely and lots of scaffolding everywhere.
The line to get down to the “manger” was very, very long.  So we went to some other spots to get a flavor for the church.  We went to the Roman Catholic church there and most went down to hear about Jerome’s 36 years living downstairs working on translating the Bible into Latin (The Vulgate).  Important work in the history of the church.  That cave was too stuffy as I recalled, so I hung upstairs to “enjoy” some mass in some other language.
Back to the bus soon and by the Stars and Bucks coffee shop.  Crazy place.

The bus was in that parking garage (well, I guess so, it did show up there eventually).  Then we crossed into Israel proper (out of the PA territory) and headed to the hotel.  They have to park across the major road – so we have major steps up to the street level of the Jaffa Gate. But once up there, we are on the same level as our hotel.  And we are not too far inside the Jaffa Gate.

The hotel is quite interesting – and full of ambience.  I hope tomorrow we get some overview of the layout and the location. This is definitely the best location ever – and the food was good (meatloaf was delicious). It is just a little older, but full of character.  Just depends on what you want.

Nine of us headed to the Western Wall after dinner.  That may have done in the rest of any energy left in us for today.  It was such a warm evening – and the end of Independence Day, but whatever the reason, the wall and the streets leading to the wall were much busier than I ever remembered.  It was great journey.

Back now at the room.  It is time to get settled a little, tho the days will pass by way too quickly.  I want to relish each moment and adventure in the Old City.  It starts in the morning as we spend our time walking through the streets of Jerusalem.

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