Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Le Douzième Jour, Samedi. (The twelfth day, Saturday 5/28)

 Honestly, the start of Saturday was a little bit boring. We went to yet another ancient synagogue. They really kind of are all the same. But the day improved greatly from that point on!

We went and saw the "Jesus Boat" which is a boat that was discovered completely buried in mud and totally preserved. It is basically a first century boat similar to the kind that Jesus would have been in for the calming of the sea and walking on water and all those Sea of Galilee stories. The short video in the museum that gives brief documentation of the excavation (which was a realllly elaborate process!) was really fun because the woman in charge of the excavation was so excited throughout the whole video. She was just bubbling with energy while telling the story.

Realllly bad quality haha
Next, we went to the Greek Orthodox site for the Mt. of Beatitudes. Now, it is quite likely that this wasn't the real site, but nevertheless it was beautiful there! They have this gorgeous cathedral and magnificent gardens and the views all around are just breathtaking. It was easy to picture Jesus in a place like that.  Granted, it wasn't groomed like that at the time. But still.

 Our next stop was.....some other cathedral. It also had beautiful artwork inside. Everything was so super ornate, and it just totally blew my mind. It also led to a conversation about what Jesus defeated with the cross and empty tomb (Because the empty tomb -not the cross- is the important part really, when we really think of what He defeated). It was not sin but rather death. One of the pictures in this second cathedral showed Jesus drawing forth Adam and Eve from the tomb, because He redeemed us from the death we inherited from them. That was a really cool realization we got from it.

Our final stop of the tour day was at Capernaum, a city that Jesus was in. The story of Jairus' daughter takes place in this city. We also saw the home of Peter. Which is AWESOME! It's unfortunately under some other modern structure, but you can still kind of see what's going on there. And I guess if things have gotten their reputation as a sight before the crusaders came through, then there's a good chance that it is the real site of what happened. If it wasn't until after the crusaders came through that we find a place getting famous, then it's probably a hoax.

After we got back to the hotel and grabbed a quick dinner, we headed back to the location of the museum where the Jesus boat was and grabbed a ride on our own Jesus boat! Well, ours was quite a bit bigger, since we had 80 people on it rather than 13, but still! We were on the only tourist boat owned by believers on the whole Sea of Galilee. The captain is also a musician and has been translating worship songs into Hebrew, so we got to sing the Hebrew versions of songs we've always known in English. That was pretty cool. Not to mention we were out on the Sea that Jesus was on. Looking all around, it was the same place! Talk about legit.

Our boat dropped us off in Tiberias, and we walked around for a bit. I got french fries and a McFlurry, and we grabbed the bus and headed back to the hotel.

L'onzième Jour, Vendredi. (The eleventh day, Friday 5/27)

--Sorry people, I had this post done days ago and when I tried to put it up everything got deleted. It took me a couple days to get the time to re-write it!--

Our Friday began at the ruins of yet another synagogue. This one was pretty cool because it was tucked into a little nook of a hill and there were no other people around at all. We got to have some time of reflection and prayer to start off our morning.

We then proceeded to our hike of the morning (the reason the sick kids stayed at the hotel until afternoon) which was pretty legit. Now, it wasn't a particularly physically exerting experience, but it was pretty scary, because there were some really narrow parts where you had to hold onto cords along the side of the path and also parts where you had to climb down ladder-like pegs. All in all it was my kind of a hike because once we got done with it we felt super accomplished even though we didn't really do that much :) Below is a picture I took of some of the other people on the scariest part. Pictures of me doing the same exist too, but I don't have copies of them yet.
After the scary part of the hike, we just had sort of a gradual descent of gravelly trails. There were really cool canyons and mountains with caves in them all around us. The caves were homes or something from ancient times, and there was even a three story palace carved into the cliff in this manner, but we weren't allowed to go up there because it's dangerous with unstable rocks.

After our hike we returned to the hotel to regroup and pick up those who had recovered enough for the afternoon, which consisted of a Jeep trek and the Jordan River. Unlike the Jeep trek in the desert, this trek had real name brand Jeeps. I took a picture just to prove it. Unfortunately, the Jeep pictured wasn't the vehicle I actually rode in, which was in fact NOT a Jeep. LAME. It's okay though; our driver kept pulling up beside other vehicles so that we could throw cups of water on them. The ride was crazy!

When we got to the river, the first order of business was baptizing people. Though I was baptized in my sophomore year of high school, I've wanted to be re-baptized since  about senior year, so I took this opportunity to do just that in the Jordan River, just like Jesus did. It was kind of sad that none of the Zion kids had any home pastor or teacher to baptize us, but I had a cool guy named Pastor Phil perform mine. (Side note: he's here with his son whose name is Kramer. hahahaha!) Again, pictures of this exist, I just don't have them yet. I'll try to add some in later when I get them.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Le Dixième Jour, Jeudi. (The tenth day, Thursday 5/26)

On Thursday, our first stop was the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. It's this big old cathedral that you had to be dressed modestly to enter. Now, I thought that my group leaders were exaggerating when they kept reiterating the whole modesty thing because it seemed like nobody paid it any mind at any other sites. But at this cathedral I watched people getting kicked out because their knees and shoulders were showing. Yikes! In other note, there were images of the Virgin Mary from every country exhibited all over the walls. I took pictures of some of the really cool ones. When we finally found America though, I almost burst out laughing because it reminded me so much of Lady Gaga. Bahahaha!

Also at that stop, we got to see a house typical of the time that Jesus was born. Now, Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth. But the excavated houses at Bethlehem aren't available for us to see. (I'm not sure why, maybe they were destroyed?) So we kind of get in Nazareth what we don't get to see in Bethlehem.

We also saw the ruins of a synagogue with yet another mosaic on the floor. This one is unique because it has a picture of Aphrodite in it which remains completely intact and is called the Mona Lisa of the Middle East. Impressive! One of my questions regarding mosaics from an earlier post was answered at this stop, too. I was wondering how they get all of the different stones for everything. We were told that mosaics are measured in value in rather the same way that the quality of a picture is based upon how many pixels it has. The more pieces there are in a mosaic, the more valuable it is. Also, the pieces have to come from all over the place to get the right colors. So I guess it wasn't answered directly, but I'm guessing that means the artist wasn't walking around and picking up rock fragments...

Our last stop of the day was for a late lunch at a place that lives in community and does things similar to the ways of ancient Jews. They still keep all of the modern technology, but they are very into keeping up with all of the law, observing Sabbath and all of that. The guy who is the leader/performer is absolutely hilarious! He kind of reminded me of Robin Williams because of his eyes and his personality and also because Robin Williams has all his crazy accents and even though the guy spoke english almost perfectly, he still had an accent. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip so far.

We got to wear traditional (men's, not actually women's) clothing of the Patriarchs, practice separating wheat from chaff, and making pitas. After that, we got to ride donkeys for a little bit! We rotated one donkey between three people, and I shared with the two Turnage boys. We named our donkey Applesauce. And when it was time for me to ride, the ten year old was leading. I'm not sure if he just wasn't a strong enough personality or what, but Applesauce kept dragging us over and off the side of the road. As in the donkey was pushing the kid out of the way and the kid couldn't do anything to steer us back to the road. Yikes! All in all it was pretty good, though.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Le Neuvième Jour, Mercredi. (The ninth day, Wednesday 5/25)

On Tuesday night I was strongly advised to stay behind on Wednesday because of my knee and the fact that the events of the day included two rather treacherous hikes. I was also under the impression that if I stayed behind, I would be able to go into Tiberias to hang out for a while with Amy, the woman in charge of the trip, and Vanessa, the girl with a broken ankle. So even though I really didn't want to miss out on what the rest of the group all did, I decided that in order to be okay for the days that followed, I would take Wednesday to rest.

Once it actually happened though, I found myself sitting at the hotel all day long. It was incredibly boring. I didn't end up going to Tiberias and did little other than sit in my room or the lobby and work on this blog. Ugh. What a drag. The 12 hours that the rest of the group were gone just dragged by and it was a total bummer. And then, when they finally did get back they were all so exhausted they didn't want to do anything. I was going crazy.

Instead of going into the lobby with my friends who were getting on the computer (which I was totally sick of at that point), I decided to follow some of the boys from our group to the basketball court down the road and watch them play. Now, any of you who know me know that I hate watching basketball. That just goes to show you how much I needed something else to do. I was really that desperate.

It turns out that it really was a good thing that I didn't go though, because people were dropping like flies from either sunstroke or some sort of food poisoning or something. We're not really sure what, but lots of people are ill right now.

Then, after dinner I ended up walking a mile and a half away to the Aroma Café (Israeli version of a Starbucks or Panera) with a few people who were up for it. It was fun and my Iced Aroma was totally delicious.

When I returned from Aroma Café it was pretty much time for bed. Soooo that was my Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Le Hiutième Jour, Mardi. (The eighth day, Tuesday 5/24)

Monday night I didn't sleep very well- I kept waking up thinking that I had overslept and that I missed the bus. The first time that happened it was only 1am. The second time it was still only 5am. I fell back asleep both times, but I was awake again before the wake up call came at 6. Ugh.

Our first stop was at a castle/fort used during the crusades. It had a moat, although it's unlikely that there was ever water in the moat because water is so scarce in these parts. It was more intact than the castle from the day before, and there were big rooms and chambers and everything. At one point, the guides took us into a place and told us it was the dining area, and one of the Israeli guides started playing the flute along with a recording of other instruments to a tune that apparently the knights would have played. It was sweet.

Me with some of my friends, Andrea and Taylor.

After the castle, we headed to a kibbutz. A kibbutz is a community founded on the principles of communism, where everyone does the most they can do and is entitled to everything that they require. Apparently they were reallly big here a while back, but lately they are falling away because everyone with a good work ethic and/or talent is leaving to make profit in the real world and the only people left to actually do stuff are the bums who don't or won't actually contribute. I mean, it's pretty much the story of everything that stems from communism, right? Why is the outcome surprising?

Anyways, we hiked up a trail that looked out over the kibbutz and all the area that we'd been in all day. On the hike back down we took a trail that brought us past a Japanese garden. I'm still not entirely sure why there was a Japanese garden there, although I know that some religious person went there and visited within the past few years. But it wasn't really clear why the garden ended up there...

Complete with a koi pond.

We then went to see a synagogue that has been excavated and found with a fully intact mosaic on the floor. They had a really well done (if a little corny) video showing how they may have decided what to put on it and highlighting all of the different parts of the composition.

We finished off our day visiting a bunch of Roman pools that were totally awesome! The water was sooooo nice and refreshing! They were all interconnected and there were different things going on in each like caves and waterfalls and stuff. It was totally the highlight of the day. And I was thinking about Zac the whole time I did knee rehab by swimming in the water. Zac I hope your recovery is still going well! I feel your pain, brother :/

Le Septième Jour, Lundi. (The seventh day, Monday 5/23)

 Monday began with a bang. Literally. We went to the Golan Heights, where we could see mountains that still had snow on the top of them! It was crazy, considering all the heat we've been melting in. It turned out that the mountain we were on was a monument to Israeli soldiers, I think from the Six Day War. Honestly though, I'm not really sure. See, there was all of this really cool commemorative statue art on this hill, which I think was a real functional bunker in the past, and I was posing for a picture with someone, pretending to launch a grenade, when I went flailing to the ground. I don't know exactly what happened, but it felt like my kneecap popped out the side of my knee and the popped back in again. It was pretty much as painful as it sounds. This has happened before too, a couple of years ago. When it happened that time, my knee was swollen and painful for several days, but ended up alright. I'm hoping that's the case this time, too.

We then went on to the ruins of a castle that was built around 1229 called Nimrod. It was neat because it really was like a castle, with arches between rooms and some of the downstairs rooms have a pond in them now, which was sweet, if a little nasty looking.

Our next stop of the day was a place called Banias, right by Caesarea Philippi, which is close to where Jesus was when Peter realized that Jesus was Messiah. The town itself was apparently totally pagan, so it is extremely unlikely that Jesus was actually there. According to our trip leader, it was one thing for Jesus to associate with tax collectors, but he wouldn't have held company with the total pagan community of the city. Anyway, the water in this area was really pretty, lots of little pools and streams with lush trees coming out of them.

After lunch and a quick bus ride, we made our way to the area that is the headwaters of the Jordan. This was the place that David would likely have been as he wrote Psalm 42 "As the deer pants for streams water, so my soul pants for you, my God". We first passed a rushing, raging area on a bridge (picture of it below), and then made our way on the forest trails to the very beginning, where the water just barely trickled along. We got to sit and reflect and then go drink from the clear, cold water. It was really powerful. 

Further along the woods, we came to Tel Dan, an archaeological site that has a gate which is one of the oldest arched gateways ever excavated. Tel Dan is the place that the Tel Dan Stele was found (duh). A stele is the archaeological term for an inscription, and the Tel Dan Stele is significant because it makes reference to the House of David, which is the only archaeological evidence of the line of David that has been discovered to date.

The last stop of the day was Omrit, a site that is currently in the process of being excavated. It was pretty cool to see a work in progress, and we actually got there as the team was packing up and heading out. There was one middle aged man, and four or so college aged looking people who were also there, I'm assuming it was a professional and then some interns or something. I think that helpers are usually college students... Pastor Paul calls those trips "move my dirt" ministry.

By the time I had completed the 15 minute walk up to the site of Omrit though, I was totally exhausted and in quite a bit of pain. I had iced my knee a couple of times during the day, but we didn't have an ace bandage or anything so I was just dealing with it as best as I could. I left the site about ten minutes before everyone else, accompanied by the two older Turnage children, and we walked back at a nice easy pace. We only arrived at the buses about two minutes sooner than the first of the other arrivals. Sheesh.

Le Sixième Jour, Dimanche. (The sixth day, Sunday 5/22)

 On Sunday we got a wonderful 5:15 wake up call. Yea, it rocked. Pause not. I really don't know why our wake up was an hour earlier than usual, either, because we only left a half hour earlier than usual...whatever. Anyway, the reason that we got up so early is because we were headed to Masada, an ancient stronghold on a plateau on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Masada is famous because a group of Jews hid up there from the Romans for many months and when the Romans finally but a giant ramp and made it up to the top they found that the Jews had all killed themselves. We climbed up the side that had the ramp, but used a trail of mostly stairs that went along the side of the ramp because it is mostly deteriorated. But we had to get up there so early because it gets horrifically hot up there! We were off the mountain by like 10:30 and I was already dying in the sun!

At the top, there was a scribe making a copy of the Torah. Or something like that. It was pretty cool to see a person actually up there doing the work though, so I figured I'd put my picture here despite the fact that it's a bad picture with all the reflection going on because he was behind glass...

On North side of Masada is the palace for Herod, the person who originally fortified the mountain because he was super paranoid and made fortified placed all over the land so that he could hole up in them if necessary. We observed this part of the city from the highest of three levels of his palace, so this is a shot looking down at the other levels. 

Up on top of Masada there was also an excellent view of the area around it. It was kind of hazy still because it was still morning and the haze doesn't usually burn off til afternoon, but it was beautiful all the same. The whole time I was up there though, I kept thinking about the Vampire Weekend song "Horchata" (a drink that is like spiced hot chocolate). Now, I understand that when you use the word horchata in a song, there aren't many things that rhyme with it, and you have to use everything that you can to fit into the rest of the song. But still, I think they were definitely wrong when they wrote the line "you'd still enjoy it with your feet on Masada". Um, that would be a no. I do not want a hot chocolate while standing under the baking hot sun in the middle of the desert, thank you.

To get down, we got to ride the gondola on the other side of the mountain. The side we climbed up was 150 meters, if I remember correctly, and the side we went down is 400 meters of more difficult climb. So it would have totally stunk to go down that side without a gondola. I rode down holding the hand of the trip leaders' four year old daughter, Ellie. Her full name is Elisheva, which is the Hebrew version of Elizabeth. She's like superrrrr tall! Her dad, Marc, is 6'7'' and her mom, Amy, is pretty tall too. They also have two sons; Lucas, who is a six foot tall 12 year old (take that, Jonny!) and Jordan, who is 10 and right about my height. He might be taller than I am though, I'm not sure...

Our next stop was kind of a fail, because we were trying to get somewhere that the road to wasn't passable, so instead the leaders took us to some cliffs and told us some of the history from that area, including pointing out the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and talking about David hiding out from Saul and stuff. During that stop I had to pee like crazy and we were just kinda pulled over on the highway in the wilderness (basically, desert) on cliffs. There were definitely no bathrooms and it wasn't the ideal place to just pee outside, but our tour guide told me and another girl to go around in a particular spot that wouldn't be visible from the buses. So yes people, I have now officially popped a squat in the desert. Hurray!

After the cliffs and lunch, we headed to a nature reserve. The really cool thing about it was that there are all sorts of natural, fresh water streams that have created many fresh water ponds. Even though they are right next to the Dead Sea, which is so salty it can't sustain life, these little ponds are just brimming with life. This particular pond contains every single specimen of fish that can be found anywhere in Israel. The reason for this is probably that birds stopping in to eat at different places also pick up eggs on their feet and then they get deposited into this one. It was pretty cool.

Our last stop of the day was the Dead Sea! From something so salty that it can't sustain life, one would expect a murky and icky color, but as you see below it is quite bright and beautiful. The sectioned off swimming area is pretty brown though because everybody is stirring up all the mud in it. Apparently the water and mud contain really helpful minerals that do wonders for your skin (although the salt content- 10 times that of the ocean- can be fatal if ingested) and so people rub in all over their skin. There are also really strict rules about what you can and can't do in the area sectioned off for people to got in. For instance, you can't run or splash at all because you can't get other people's faces wet (although we all kept slipping and falling down accidentally), you can't go underwater or get your face wet (although you float so easily that it would actually be incredibly difficult to get fully underwater), and you can't be floating on your stomach in the water, even just to pull yourself along. It was pretty intense! Below is a picture of pretty much everyone in our group with mud slathered all over us. Can you find me?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Le Cinqième Jour, Samedi. (The fifth day, Saturday 5/21)

On Saturday, we went to Avdat, an ancient city. It was pretty cool to see all of the architecture and ruins, which were pretty well intact and explorable. Here are some general pictures from that adventure :)

Then we went to Arad, another excavation site. The whole city was kind of laid out in low lying walls, although they barely protruded at all up from there. Below is a shot from the temple, specifically the Holy of Holies. The two pillars right in front are idols, the bigger on the left representing Yahweh and the smaller on the right representing a female counterpart, probably Asherah. When the prophets called out the Israelites for following more than one god, it is likely that they were simply adding to Yahweh like this, rather than following completely other gods.