Wednesday 22nd: Amman / Philadelphia

Greetings from Amman where it was in the 60s and sunny today. I see that you got home safe and sound and snowy. Yay! Now get your sleep and rediscover your proper time zone.

David is going to be fine. It’s going to take some time, though, and we don’t know yet how long it will be. Keep him in your prayers.

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From the theater looking to the tel and acropolis with the Temple of Hercules in the distance

As for me… I slept in till after 7am. Had a breakfast of (guess!) veggies, olives, eggs, and sundry pastries. Ran some errands with David, and then I headed out. I walked to the ancient city of Philadelphia, one of the Decapolis cities in the Roman period. Guess what! I walked to the acropolis of the tel, saw a temple, palace, gateways, a Byzantine church, two museums with lots of old stuff, a huge theater (the one in Caesarea Maritima we visited held 3500; this one which was still largely original held 6000), an Odeion, and (you’re waiting for it…) water systems and a huge cistern. I also took a picture of a cat. Total elevation gain of 1058 feet. Miles walked: 8.6. I know you all wish you could have gone along with me to see all the ruins.

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Picture of cat in the ruins

For supper, I’m anticipating the same here at the hotel as last night. Guess what they serve! A variety of veggies, salads, bread, soup, chicken, beef, rice, pasta, and a mix of desserts based on honey or gelatinous stuff in florescent shades of pink and yellow. (What? No fish or potatoes??) I did find chocolate bars for cheap, however, so we’re all good.

Oh, and I also saw the national bird of Jordan (according to Mohammad). BTW, the NET folks have been just great, and Mohammad stopped to visit us today and brought a platter of incredible dates for us.

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National bird of Jordan

Stay tuned for further updates…

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Monday 20th: Bethany beyond the Jordan and Gerash

This will have to be quick, because we are supposed to wake up in 3 hours for our flight home. So, quick summary:

Another beautiful day! It was positively hot  at the baptismal site. We see that it is 22 degrees and a snowstorm when we get back to Dulles tomorrow.

The day started with an early morning float in the Dead Sea.

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Our first stop was Bethany beyond the Jordan At the traditional site (and now there is a facility on the Israel side as well) of the baptism of Jesus, we affirmed out baptisms and signed with the waters of the Jordan.

On the way north we stopped at the Jabbok River and remembered Jacob’s wrestling with the angel.

Next stop was Gerash (Gerasa), a city of the decapolis. What a city! Roman engineering and aesthetics at its finest.

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We had an elegant closing meal in Amman. There were so many delicious appetizers that we were almost too full for the main course. Almost…

On a serious note, David H in our group fell from a horse in Petra yesterday because the saddle had not been properly cinched. Rick C accompanied him to the hospital today where it was determined that he had indeed fractured a rib and punctured a lung. This means he is hospitalized and will need to stay in Amman a few days before flying home. Please keep him in your prayers.

Next post in the USA!

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Sunday 18th: Petra

So the day started with me facing this. Some kind of experimental testing chamber? In its prime, this was probably a pretty fancy shower, but I was lucky to figure out how to get a shower at all from it.

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Once past that hurdle, we got an early start on Petra. It simply is an amazing site, and we again had incredible weather. The blue of the sky against the hues of the rock are gorgeous. Of course you do have to fight your way through the persistent horde of vendors offering camel and donkey rides and trinkets beyond counting. I’ll just let some pics define the day.

Entering the Siq

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Exiting the Siq

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The Zion Lutheran Middletown (MD) contingent in front of the Petra Treasury

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Tombs in the valley

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It was almost 4 miles in and then it’s a matter of retracing steps out. Before the trip, someone asked how far we’d be walking each day. I guessed about 3 miles. Rick E in the group has been tracking it, and we are averaging 5.5 miles per day. No wonder we’re eating so much!

Also, in previous posts I mentioned a couple other bloggers on the trip. I forgot to mention the blog Victoria L has been keeping. It’s really excellent. Start HERE with day 1 and move forward.

Tonight we are staying at the Dead Sea. It’s hard to believe tomorrow is our last day

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Saturday 17th: Jerusalem to Jordan

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We left Jerusalem this morning and headed east to Jordan, stopping on the way to view St. George Monastery and the Wadi Qilt, most well known as the road from Jericho to Jerusalem and the setting for the parable of the “Good Samaritan.”

We said farewell to our outstanding guide, Andre, and bus driver, Samir, and eventually made it in to Jordan with our new guide, Mohammed, and driver, Tariq. We drove to Mt. Nebo for a hazy overview to the promised land. Next stop was at a mosaic factory before seeing the famous mosaic at the church in Madaba. We then visited Machareus (picture above), another one of Herod the Great’s palace / fortresses. It was here, under his son Herod Antipas, that John the Baptist was beheaded. From there we made the long drive to Petra.

Tomorrow is Petra!

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Friday 16th: Jerusalem once more

Walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

Walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

It was a beautiful day in Jerusalem! We walked from the hotel through Herod’s gate and started our day at St. Anne’s Church. The acoustics are amazing, and our group of singers provided some beautiful and inspiring singing. Next to the church are the pools of Bethesda mentioned in John 5. From there we started on the Via Dolorosa path through the Old City, eventually arriving at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Compared to other times I’ve been there, the crowds were light today, and we had a chance to appreciate the place and the events it memorializes. The afternoon was free for food, shopping, and exploring. (I visited the 1st century CE remains of the Wohl Archaeological Museum.) Later in the afternoon we had a chance to visit with Pastors Martin and Angela Zimman at the Church of the Redeemer. Check out their Facebook page for more info on what they are doing.

It’s our last night in Jerusalem… :(

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Thursday 15th: Jerusalem

Here's the group on the steps that led up to the Temple Mount.

Here’s the group on the steps that led up to the Temple Mount.

The weather has been unbelievable–60s and sunny–especially given that this is the rainy season. They do need rain here, so we will pray for it after we leave!

Quite a day in Jerusalem! We started with the view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Staying on the Mount of Olives, we then went to Augusta Victoria Hospital and met with the director, Mark Brown. He shared with us the work the hospital is doing, especially as part of the Lutheran World Federation’s mission “to serve the humanitarian needs of the poor and marginalized, following the example of Jesus Christ.” This has meant not only providing medical help and emergency assistance to Palestinians (and recently, Syrian refugees who have fled the country) but also working for peace and reconciliation for this troubled region. From their viewpoint on the Mount of Olives, it’s easy to see the hardships for Palestinians created by the wall and the ever-growing settlements.

Our day continued with a walk down the Palm Sunday path with a stop at the Dominus Flevit chapel. After that, we were able to spend some time in the Garden of Gethsemane before visiting the Church of All Nations. The bus brought us back to the Dung Gate, and we once again entered the Old City. We visited the Ophel region at the base of the Temple Mount, saw the destruction the Romans wreaked in 70 CE, and sat on the steps where Jesus would have passed as he went up to the Temple Mount. From there we went through security to get to the Temple Mount to see and learn about the Dome of the Rock and the Islamic history connected with the site. We went into the Muslim Quarter for lunch and then over to the City of David park. Here is where the oldest remains in Jerusalem have been found dating back to Davidic and even Canaanite times. It’s also where some of the group walked down Hezekiah’s Tunnel (dark, narrow, ~600 yards long, all the way in water up to 27″ high) or the Canaanite Tunnel (dry and lighted but even narrower!).

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Wednesday 14th: Herodium and Jerusalem!

We left Bethlehem and went to Herod the Great’s monumental palace / fortress of Herodium. It is another example of Herod’s brilliance, extravagance, and arrogance.

We approached Jerusalem from the south and got our first view from the Haas Promenade. Going in to the old city via the Dung Gate, we went straight to the Western Wall (Wailing Wall), and took the tunnel tour. Again, amazing building skills evident in the construction of the Temple Mount. After lunch we went to the Israel Museum where we saw the 1st century Jerusalem model, the Book of the Shrine with its Qumran exhibit, and the archaeological wing. It was fun (at least for me!) to see so many artifacts from the sites we have visited.

Jerusalem with the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives on the right.

Jerusalem with the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives on the right.

Tel joke: What do you call a tel that’s always on time? ….. a teleprompter (blame KVH for that one)

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Tuesday 14th: Shephelah,Valley of Elah and Socoh, Tel Maresha / Bet Guvrin, Bethlehem Church of the Nativity

IMGP2946sThe country needs the rain, but we’ve been blessed with more wonderful weather. Today we started at Beth Shemesh with its view of the Soreq Valley, scene of Samson’s exploits and the route the oxen took when returning the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines to the Israelites. (2 Sam 6) From there it is a short distance to Azekah and Socoh in the Valley of Elah, site of David’s battle with Goliath. On to Tel Maresha / Bet Guvrin and its incredible bell caves, ‘basements,’ and columbarium. Next up was Tel Lachish, site of the battle with Sennacharib who eventually destroyed the city.

We then went back to the elegant Jacir Intercontinental in Bethlehem. At supper, Pastors Martin and Angela Zimmann from Christ the Redeemer in Jerusalem joined us along with Salameh Bishara who works with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land’s educational programs. They are doing great work, so be sure to check out their web site.

Tel joke: What do you call a lucky tel? …. a fortune teller

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Monday 13th: Masada, Arad, Beer She’va

Here's the group descending the Roman ramp that was built in the campaign against the rebels in Masada.

Here’s the group descending the Roman ramp that was built in the campaign against the rebels in Masada.

As you can tell, I’m running a bit behind on posting, but we have been delightfully busy!

I’ll attach some pics when I get a chance, but just to keep you updated…

We enjoyed the elegance and food of the hotel on the Dead Sea, but this morning we headed out to Masada. A number of us walked up the Snake Path, a climb up of over 1200 feet. The people in the cable car waved at us as they passed overhead. Masada, a palace complex built by Herod the Great, is the site of the last Jewish resistance to the Romans in the war that started in 66CE that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. Masada held out a couple more years due to its strategic location and amazing planning for water and food. We walked down the Roman ramp that was built that finally resulted in Roman victory. On through the Judean wilderness to Beer She’va, site of Abraham’s well and the ancient tel. From there we went to Tel Arad, an ancient Canaanite city and later an important Judean fortress. An Israelite temple was found here that is similar to the Temple that would have been standing in Jerusalem.

On to Bethlehem! We passed back into the West Bank and again noted the great difference in standard of living, the incursion of Jewish settlements everywhere, and a heavy Israeli military presence. We are staying at the magnificent Jacir Intercontinental in Bethlehem. What a place to stay, yet we are the only group in the hotel because of the difficulties posed by the wall and checkpoints.

We finally had time for our Sunday worship service, and it was a wonderful experience of sharing and communion.

Also, we have seen so many tels (the mounds created by ancient cities) that we have a running line of tel jokes.

What’s the best way to see a tel?    (Television)

How do people communicate between two tels?   …. you get the idea!

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Sunday 12th: Samaria / Sebaste, Shechem / Nablus, Jericho, Qumran

On the walls of ancient Samaria

On the walls of ancient Samaria

Quite a day… We knew we had an ambitious plan so we took our leave from Tiberias at 7:30am. As we entered the West Bank territory under Palestinian control, the difference was immediately obvious. We clearly had passed into a place that was under considerable economic duress. Our guide shared the history of the situation and his experiences. It is just so complicated and hard to even imagine a good solution. In any case, our trip intentionally is spending time in the West Bank for us to get a better understanding of the situation.

As for stops, we got to see Samaria (the city, later renamed Sebaste), Shechem in the heart of Nablus and located between Mounts Gerizim and Ebal. Due to closing times, we first went to Qumran, then backtracked a bit to Jericho. On to a fabulous hotel on the Dead Sea… All is good, and we are thankful.

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