No wonder I’m all ready for bed and sitting with aching feet trying to put a few words together….it’s been a very long day. The troops are feeling it, and I am hoping tomorrow could be a lighter day with a bit more rest built in. Let’s hope.
The day began with an early morning jaunt to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I’d always wanted to try it early in the morning, but never had the energy. There is strength in number. Six of us headed over at 6 am to check out the church before breakfast. I just want to say…..it was still crowded. Not like it would be in a few hours, but there was a line to Calvary and a line to the Tomb. Really? There were more than a few meandering about the place. I was shocked. But we all did our thing and there were even some monks chanting. I had heard they would do that, but it really wasn’t very moving or enjoyable.
So I sat outside with Mark and we were just enjoying the start of a new day when I just about jumped out of my skin. It was unbelievable. The bells in the tower began to peel. And I must say they were not very melodic and pleasing. They were a crashing gong from our perspective. We had to get up and move inside the church just to keep our tender ears from ringing the rest of the day. They were obnoxious. In our humble opinion. I’m sure the bell committee loves them. Or did at one point.
After our bell concert the others began to filter through the church and soon we were headed back to the Gloria for breakfast. By 8 am we were in the lobby and by 8:10 headed out for the day. There would not be a bus in the morning, only in the afternoon. So here’s how it all went….
We started with a walk through the Christian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter. We visited the wall built by Hezekiah and the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter and then down , down, down, leaving the Old City for The City of David. Of course they were selling that amazing bread with zaatar just outside the Dung Gate, and we just HAD to buy some. Well, I did. And Andre. But we shared. Well, I did. Not sure what Andre did.
Soon we were back working our way down to the City of David, just south of the Temple Mount. I had already decided I wouldn’t attempt going down into the space, and was not, for sure, attempting any tunnel walking today. I think there were five other folks who joined me “up top.” I had specific instructions as to the time and location of the pickup after the others toured the site. We didn’t do a whole lot while we waited. And we even left a tad early so we wouldn’t make them wait at all. Of course, the bus showed up half an hour after our designated meeting time. I knew I was in the right place, so we just waited. There could be lots of reasons for them being late: someone decided to walk through the wet tunnel to get out; Andre talked too long at a couple of spots; they were slow tunnel walkers; the bus was late; or any combination therein. They finally showed up and I was, indeed, in the right place and they were just running behind. No one took the jaunt through the wet tunnel of Hezekiah, but they all opted for the dry one. And I guess they had a good time.
We got back on the bus long enough to…well, to do nothing. We went up the hill not half a mile and turned into the parking lot for Mt. Zion. He parked. We disembarked. Headed to see the Zion Gate (the one with the bullet holes) and then the Upper Room. Andre did a great job of explaining all the things that happened in this area, but you know, it’s a Crusader building with Crusader arches. Hard at least for me to get into it.
Then we walked across the street to St. Peter in Gallicantu. Where Jesus faced Caiaphas, was mistreated by the Jewish leaders, and where Peter denied Jesus. Three times. It was a busy place. There were a ton of buses, so I’m sure there were a ton of people too. But Andre brought us through the “back” way and avoided a lot of the crowds. We didn’t even go into the church. We did wait at the “prison cave” entrance. But the group down in the pit was really taking a long time and there was a large group in front of us. So I suggested we move on and no one objected. We did go next door and look down into that pit. That was interesting. Then we came out of the church. And there was a mob of people all milling about there. It was unbelievable. After we moved thru the crowd and began to head toward the bus, they all quieted down – they were with one HUGE group. We headed back to the bus (finding it was tough since there were so many). It was like a constipated bus parking lot. I didn’t think we’d ever get out, but Abed got us right out. Amazing.
Whew. That was exhausting, and it was getting warm. What was next? Oh yes, off to the museums. We stopped for lunch at the Israel Museum’s coffee shop. It was quick – and a lot of bread. So that was nice. Oh, and with the stress of the day I decided to finally reignite a tradition – I got a Magnum bar. First one of the trip. And the white chocolate one. It was amazing. I don’t anticipate getting another one, but this one hit the spot.
Then we turned a corner or two and toured the model of Jerusalem from the first century. Folks enjoyed that and at least it was blistering. Just melting. But it was nice. Then to Shrine of the Book. Brief explanation followed by free time. When asked how much time I said 10 minutes would be plenty. Andre said no way and gave us 20. I knew there was not that much that we’d like to see and I was right – 10 minutes would have been plenty. Oh well.
But as we were just getting to the third section where the scrolls are located, there was a flurry of activity which just swooped into the room. Lots of cameras. At least one video camera recording everything. Security and assistants everywhere and then a small Asian man obviously getting a private personal tour from an Israeli. Hmmmm. Who could this be? And with all the cameras….wait a minute, we aren’t allowed to take pictures in this museum and there were paparazzi everywhere. Well, there were at least 3-5 and they weren’t out of control. But they did run around a bit. And who was it? It was Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. A mega millionaire from China, btw. It was interesting at least. After he left all got quiet again. But someone tried to take a picture and the folks jumped down their throats. I did forget about the “no picture” rule and snapped a photo of Jack May.
We were going to skip the rest of the museum (the archeological part), but I said we’d love to see it. So we did. Can’t miss that, right? The temple from Arad and the ossuary for Caiaphas, the name of Pontius Pilate and the name of David. Come on, man….we had to see that amazing stuff. So we did.
Back to bus (eventually) and on our way. That museum time was quite rushed and herding cats was the perfect analogy. Everybody has their own interests and pace, so in a larger group that it is a tough place to be. But…we do have a time schedule. We have to go to Yad Vashem and get back to the Western Wall plaza by 5 pm for our appointment in the Rabbinical Tunnels (SPOILER ALERT: we don’t make it).
Off to Yad Vashem (the museum for the victims of the holocaust). We had another brief visit in the museum and the hall of memory and the children’s memorial. Nobody seemed to mind the pace. I mean we had this 5:00 appointment and it is now 4:00 at least.
Back on the bus and off to the Old City once again. And once again, Jerusalem presented us with not its best face regarding traffic. It was terrible. We didn’t make it back to Mt. Zion until after 5:00 – and to the tunnels until about 5:20. I guess it didn’t matter all that much since “we” got in fairly quickly and the tour started soon thereafter. I don’t know what happened down in the tunnels, as I took the high road and sunlit path around the Old City to the spot where they would all exit in about 45 minutes. Or thereabouts. Hey, they weren’t too much longer than that. Soon we were on our way “home.” Yay.
Well, to be honest, I think Andre took a bit of a detour – for flavor for us. We made a turn I don’t usually make and it took us through the Muslim Quarter. Just a little bit out of our way. But only I knew that – and I’m not talking. I think he wanted us to get a flavor of the Muslim Quarter and this was a good time for that.
By 6:20 we were back at the hotel. So much for an 8-5 day. People are beat up and exhausted. Hopefully we can all sleep well tonight and get our fee ready for another Jerusalem day tomorrow. We don’t get a bus tomorrow so everything will be done on foot. Oh boy. We won’t all make it through the whole day, but taxi’s are not far from anywhere we will be tomorrow. Pray for us!
I went out (yes, I’m nuts) with Kevin and Luann Budd after dinner tonight. They are surprisingly balmy evenings in Jerusalem – a shock, actually. So I hate to waste in the hotel room, though that might have been the smartest option. But we only have two more nights in Jerusalem after tonight. Have to get it all in, right? Yes, I’m right.
So now I can wrap things up and get this day over. I’m so ready to turn off the light and get to what I do best – sleeping.