10:24 pm

I think I may have partied too much tonight.  It’s a bit late to begin a journal on a day as full (and exhausting) as this one.  But, let’s get started.

I slept with my blinds open so I could catch a glimpse of the Dead Sea whenever I woke up during the night and morning.  I didn’t see it much (I slept great).  But in the morning as the sun came up over the mountains of Moab, I enjoyed the colors very much.  It was a great morning.

Breakfast was adequate. Are you kidding me?  It was amazing and delicious, and I had to restrain myself. And I did (for the last time today, to be honest).  We were all in the lobby by 8 (as per our instructions).  I remembered to tip everyone this time and so we were off to Masada before our 8:15 departure time.  What a great group!

It’s another very warm day (well, we are at the Dead Sea in September).  But it wasn’t too bad.  There was a breeze on the top of Masada which made touring bearable.  Barely.  There were no lines down at the Visitor Center.  We saw the movie and got right on the next cable car.  They closed it right after I got on (yeah).  It was full.  But the ride is smooth and not long.

We unloaded at the top, let another group go first – and then headed to the mountain.  We got stopped by a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of new Israeli soldier recruits.  They were filing down the walkway headed to the cable car and a ride off the mountain.  They were young and energetic – and greeted us nicely.

We then toured the site.  The vast storerooms.  The plastered walls of the leadership class.  The bath house used by the people.  And then the palaces of King Herod. Well, we didn’t walk down into them – but we did see the exterior model and peer down to them from above.  Lots of pictures were taken.  As it should be.

On our way to the top of the siege ramp we stopped next to the room where the ostraca with ten names was found.  And the synagogue (for a devotion) and a scribe who would right your name in a transliterated Hebrew.

It was now time for the big descent.  We (I) had sent the bus around the mountain to pick us up on the back side (a rare thing these days).  So we walked down from Masada near where the siege ramp was built.  It was a bit more difficult a walk than I had remembered.  So it was tough.  We have some tough troops, though.  I know it was more than they were comfortable doing – but they did it.  And they did it without complaint.  It was difficult.  But we made it.  The bus never looked so good.

Once we recuperated a bit we were back in the bus and on our way to Arad.  It was a chance to experience the terrain of southern Judah.  The land is fairly void of vegetation this time of year.  The hills and valleys form wonderful places to hide from your enemies. It’s not the lush but hilly northern part of Israel.  Only the rugged survive down here.

Soon we were in Arad and passing through on election day.  It’s a public holiday and the turnout rate is usually pretty high (60-70%).  After passing through the city, we went a bit north to Tel Arad, the national park.  I love that site.  No one (and I mean no one) is ever there.  Not sure when the last tour bus stopped at Arad.  But there on the fringe of the land between the wilderness of Judah and the Negev is a fortress city.  At one point in their history they tired of traveling north to Jerusalem, so they built their own tabernacle/temple at the high place of the city. Really?  Yes, they did.  So we got to visit a scale model of the Temple.  It’s amazing, actually.

It was now time for lunch.  And lunch on this day has been pretty iffy of late.  But Benny had an idea. There was a strip mall not too far back into Arad with an Aroma coffee shop.  It’s sort of like a Panera over here.  Lots of coffee, tho….but sandwiches and soups too.  But there was something else in the strip mall – a McDonald’s.  Really? 

So the decision was – local culture at Aroma’s or American culture at McDonalds’s. Hmmm.  What to do.  I made my decision – me and six others headed to…..McDonald’s.  In all my trips to Israel I have never eaten there and just thought it would be interesting.  Kind of cultural experience. I wanted to see if it would be any different or not.

You order at a kiosk, so that is interesting in a foreign country.  But they had an English version which helped.  Here’s the bottom line.  The burger ($15) was HUGE.  I mean probably 6” in diameter.  With fries and a diet coke it was about $15.  Food over here is not cheap – even at McD’s.  But since I was in McDonald’s….and hadn’t been in about a decade I’m sure – I had to try the shake too.  I didn’t realize how big the burger was going to be at the time.  Just to be honest.

With the huge burger (it was really good too – I enjoyed it a lot) and fries and a drink and a shake – that was a lot of lunch. A lot of lunch.  In about half an hour it sank to bottom of my tummy and oh….I regretted eating the whole thing.  Well, just a little bit.  I did hear Aroma’s was delicious.  Homemade bread and all.

Back on the bus right at 2 pm as instructed and we were off to Beer Sheva.  This would be the final tel of the day.  We spent a bit of time walking around the tel.  This is Abraham country and I couldn’t help but think that the view we enjoyed was also a view very familiar to Abraham. He’s be amazed at the big buildings on the horizon, but the vast rolling hills would still have been the same.  I guess.  We walked through the water system and headed back to the bus.

We had before us about a 75-minute drive to our hotel in Jerusalem.  It is interesting to watch the terrain change.  From desert to coastal plain to small hills to Judean mountains.  Jerusalem is so much cooler and drier than what we’ve been experiencing.  The difference is stark.

Our first stop was on Mt. Scopus for a welcome moment to Jerusalem.  You can see the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock laying before us.  It was clear and almost cool.  It’s just a lovely welcome to this ancient city.

In 10 minutes, we were at our hotel.  The van was working so it could bring our luggage inside the Jaffa Gate for us – and all the way to our hotel.  Benny had left us so I get to field all the questions.  I think we got settled ok.

We ate at 7:30 in the dining room.  There as not a huge crowd because they asked us to come later – so that was nice.  It was quiet.  The food was fine.

At 8:20 we met (those with any energy left in their feet) for our “first night in Jerusalem” trek to the Western Wall.  We walked through the Jewish Quarter and down the step to the plaza.  The whole journey was crowded.  Being election day, I think lots of folks had it off and so they were just out in their city.  It was nice to visit a city packed with energy.
We made is safely to the Western Wall.  Survived security. And enjoyed some time at the plaza and wall.  It was such a lovely evening, compared to what evenings have been for so long.

We made it back to the area of the hotel and then made a critical decision.  I has spied a gelato shop last week and have been waiting to give it a try.  Tonight was the night.  Things were closing though and I wasn’t sure it would still be open.  We made it to the shop and the lights were still on.  And….the only thing he would serve us was….gelato.  And it was a bargain.  $3 for small cup (really two scoops).  So it was a big hit, and especially since he stayed open just for us – we might have to go back there again.  Tomorrow?

But we are in Jerusalem.  Tomorrow we will be up on the Temple Mount and down the Via Dolorosa.  In the afternoon we’ll visit Herodian and Bethlehem.  Shopping and lunch. Should be great.  Need to get to sleep now, however.  My feet are still sore from all the walking/hiking today.

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