After our awesome tour of Nazareth, we had about an hour drive through the countryside of Israel to the Sea of Galilee. The northern end of Galilee is a very beautiful, lush green area. We drove through a lot of citrus groves. Our first stop was apparently closed. That was fine with me because we decided to have our lunch break and then come back later. I was getting hungry! We took a short drive to Saint Peter’s Restaurant.
St. Peter’s is a very interesting place. This area being a highlight of the Holy Land gets quite a few visitors. Most of these visitors, as we did, come in big tour buses. St. Peter’s is designed to accommodate many tour buses. I don’t remember exactly, but I think there were ten or so buses in the parking lot. You may be thinking that this could be a nightmare! It was actually pretty nice. Whoever set this up knew what they were doing. First, the dining room was huge! The tables were large family style tables. I think half of our bus was at my table. All of the people on all of the buses just dissolved into the room. The table was setup with small Middle Eastern/Mediterranean style appetizers/side dishes. Family style, pass the hummus please. In the name of efficiency, we had the option of one of four main dishes. 1. St. Peter’s fish, the house specialty. This is a whole grilled fish. 2. Fish filet, for those who don’t like their lunch staring back at them. 3. Grilled chicken breast for the less adventurous. And 4. Grilled kebab, a beef and lamb mixture. All was served with a side of potatoes. If that’s not enough, there was a huge salad bar with not just salad, but pita, hummus, and more of those Middle Eastern/Mediterranean veggies. I was tempted to try the St. Peter’s fish, being the house specialty, but I can’t pass up kebabs, so I ordered those. They were a great choice, they were very good, all of the food was very good. They must have a small army in the kitchen, the food came fast and hot. I’m pretty sure everyone got the correct order too.
After lunch we had some time to walk around and work off all of that food. I wasn’t hungry anymore. St. Peter’s is on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. What a beautiful area! Lots of people were taking their shoes off and wading into the sea. I picked up a few seashells, really small ones. The beautiful Golan Heights dominated the horizon in the distance. We were approximately 1 mile from the Green Line. The de facto border between Syria and Israel until the Six-Day War in 1967. After the war, the border was moved to the other side of the Golan Heights. When I was a kid, I remember hearing the Golan Heights mentioned a lot on the news. Now I was standing there looking at it. One of the things I love about traveling. After we were done sightseeing and digesting, we boarded the bus for our next stop.
The next stop on our Holy Land hit parade was the Capernaum archeological sight. I have said before that I enjoy visiting ancient places. I try to imagine what it must have been like living in this place. Capernaum was a fishing village that was first occupied in the second century BC, probably one of the oldest places that I have visited. Capernaum is called The Town of Jesus. It was the hometown of the apostle Matthew. The apostle Peter, who lived in a nearby town and Jesus from Nazareth moved to Capernaum. It was sort of a home base for the ministry work they were doing around Galilee. Jesus was teaching at the synagogue there as well. The large synagogue with the Roman style pillars, visible today, was built over the 1st century synagogue where Jesus taught. Archeologists have identified the house that Peter owned. In the 4th century a church was built over that sight. Then in the 5th century a larger octagon Byzantine church was built over that church. In 1990 a modern memorial and church was built over the sight. The memorial is raised above the sight with pillars. Inside there is a chapel where services are held. The floor in the center is made of glass to allow viewing of the remains of Peter’s house as well as the octagon church. It’s a very striking structure made of grey stone and glass. There seems to be some debate as to whether Jesus lived in the house with Paul, or somewhere else in the town. The town is on a hill overlooking the sea of Galilee. There is a great view across the sea to the Golan. Capernaum was a great place to visit.
We continued our journey to, Tabgha Church of the Loaves and Fish. The church of today is a rendering of the Byzantine era church that was destroyed. The mosaics on the floor are the original Byzantine mosaics. This is the sight where Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes. He took a few loaves of bread and a few fish and multiplied them to feed 5,000 people. The exposed rock under the alter is believed to be the rock Jesus stood on to perform the miracle. This area is also the sight of his fourth appearance after his resurrection.
Continuing up the mountain we arrive at the Beatitude Monastery. Known as the sight of the Sermon on the Mount. Many familiar quotes come from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek”, “You are the salt of the earth”, “Seek and ye shall find” and The lords Prayer, just to name a few. The church and grounds are beautiful. There are large palm trees and colorful bougainvillea. Ring neck parrots are calling back and forth, flying everywhere. The view of the sea of Galilee is amazing! If I was going to give an important sermon, I would want a place like this.
Traveling south to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. Where the Jordan River exits the Sea of Galilee is the Yardenit Baptismal Sight. Christians come here to be baptized in the waters of the Jordon River. The sight where John the Baptist baptized Jesus is on the Jordan River but farther south. I didn’t get formally baptized here but I did splash some Jordan River water on me. I brought some Jordan River water home with me. I really enjoyed my trip to Galilee! Mrs. Brumgard my Sunday School teacher would be proud. With a blazing orange sunset to put an exclamation point on a fantastic day of exploration and learning, we boarded our bus for the long drive back to the Port of Haifa and our ship.
The good thing about cruising is that you get to see a wide variety of places. Sometimes you don’t have a huge amount of time in each port. This can leave you wanting more. This would be a good place to plan another trip. Spending two days in Israel was amazing! We were able to pack a lot into our two days. We had a great time in Israel!
On our second day in Israel, Robbie and I went on separate shore excursions. Robbie wanted to see the Dead Sea. Most of the group picked the Dead Sea, Masada excursion. She had fun floating in the Dead Sea. She took a steep cable car ride up to Masada to see the ancient ruins of King Herod’s Palace. These photos are from Masada overlooking the Dead Sea.
When I was a kid my Grandma and Grandpa would take my brother and me to church on Sundays. In my Sunday school classes I heard all of the stories about Jesus. Most of these wonderful stories took place in Galilee. So I have always been fascinated with Galilee and the Sea of Galilee because of my childhood Sunday school classes. So I signed up for the Sea of Galilee shore excursion. I was joined by Marcia and her husband Jack from our group.
This excursion was jam packed full of historical locations. The first stop was Nazareth, the hometown of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. In Nazareth we encountered a detour, our bus ended up in a part of Nazareth that was not designed for large tour buses. The roads were narrow and the turns were tight. There were parked cars everywhere. We needed to back up and turn around, twice! Our bus driver did an amazing job navigating the narrow streets. We made it to the Basilica of the Annunciation without incident.
The Basilica of the Annunciation is a large, beautiful Catholic church. It’s built over the remains of ancient Nazareth. The Virgin Mary’s home town. The town where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would bear Jesus, the son of God. Excavations of the old town are visible under the basilica. We entered the church on the lower level. The lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, the childhood home of Mary. On the upper level there is a traditional sanctuary with pews, an alter, and a huge pipe organ.
Right next to the Basilica is Saint Joseph’s Church. I found it interesting how over the years people would build over top of the remains of other buildings. St. Joseph’s Church is built over a Crusader period church, that was built over a Byzantine era church, that was built over Joseph’s carpentry shop, the home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. We went below the church to see the remains of the Byzantine church. Descending the stairs was like taking a trip through time. St. Joseph’s Church also has a traditional Church on the upper floor. After touring St. Joseph’s Church we boarded our bus and headed to the Sea of Galilee.
Continuing on with our tour from the Church of All Nations, we entered Old Jerusalem through the Dung Gate. Entering the area of the Western Wall there was a security gate. The security gate has an entrance for men and a separate entrance for women. The men and I went through the men’s side, Kris, Kim and Robbie went through the women’s side. This took us into a large plaza. The Western Wall is on the far side of the plaza. The wall was built all the way around a hill known as the Temple Mount by King Herod. He built the second Jewish temple on the top of the mount in the place where God stood. In the Jewish faith, it’s known as the Holy of Holies. To this day, the Jewish people believe that in this spot you are in the presence of God. This is why the Western Wall and the Temple Mount are so important in the Jewish faith. The Western Wall is the largest remaining section of the wall. After the destruction of the third Jewish temple, the Dome of the Rock mosque was built on top of the Temple Mount. Muslims believe that the Temple Mount is the place where God created Adam. The scull of Adam was said to be found at the base of the cross of Jesus. The rock at the top of the Temple Mount is also the place where the Prophet Muhammad began his journey to heaven making the Temple Mount a most holy place for Muslims. The Western Wall is part of the border between Jewish and Muslim Jerusalem. This is why today the Western Wall is the closest that the Jewish people can get to the Holy of Holies. The wall is also known by some non-Jews as the Wailing Wall. The Jewish people would go to the wall to mourn the destruction of the temple and could be seen weeping. I don’t think the Jewish people like that name. When I was a kid, that’s how most people referred to it.
When visiting the wall there are a few things that you need to know. Like the security gate, there is a men’s side and a women’s side. Robbie was quite fascinated/disgusted with the gender separation thing. Men need to cover their heads with a hat or a yarmulke skull cap. This is to remind you that God is always above you. If you don’t have one, no worries, they have them there for you. I had my trusty fedora, so I was covered. Women need to cover their shoulders and their knees. It is customary to wash your hands before praying. There are several places to wash beforehand. I didn’t know about this at the time, but you should not turn your back on the Holy of Holies. So the devout back away from the wall. People write prayers and wishes on paper and place them in the cracks of the wall. You may only photograph the wall from the plaza, no photography at the wall. On the Sabbath or Jewish holidays there is no writing and no photography, even from the plaza. Visiting the wall was quite an experience. It’s one of those places that I heard about most of my life. I wasn’t sure that I would ever actually get to see it. There I was in front of it, touching it.
After visiting the wall we were all sort of standing around. It turned out our tour group was supposed to be using the restroom. A few of the people, including myself, didn’t realize that. By the time I was done in the restroom, the group had started to exit the plaza through security. I was able to catch up, since the line was moving slowly. I started to take a few photos. I could still see the last person in our group, but I was about ten or so people behind. Just as I was going through the security gate, they stopped letting people through. Apparently a group of VIPs needed to get to the wall before sundown to pray. I needed to wait for them to go through. Our group was behind schedule, so our guide was in high gear, walking really fast. When I finally got through the security gate, there was a “T” in the path. I could go left or right. There was no sign of our group in either direction. After starting to go left, I chose to turn right. That was the correct choice. I caught up to the group down the street a bit. Unfortunately one woman from our group was not so lucky, she was lost. Our guide went back to look for her, but no luck. We continued on our way without her. We were walking through narrow walkways, going up ancient stone steps. There was a bazaar, with lots of shops selling all sorts of things, very colorful and full of people.
When I do any tour, I usually try to get as much photography in as possible. As a result, I tend to miss out on some of what the guide is talking about. Things like it’s time to use the restroom. The fact that we were on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would have been good info, so when I got lost I would know what direction to go. Oh, and most importantly, what we should see when we get there. Aside from walking really fast, our guide, I found out later, was not quite a fountain of information. I thought it was me not paying close enough attention. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a fairly complicated building. It contains the locations of events before, during, and after the crucifixion of Jesus. It pays to know what and where the events are inside of the church. Some of the key events are, the Latin Chapel, where Jesus was nailed to the cross. Calvary Rock, where the cross was erected. The rock is exposed for viewing. Adams Chapel, under Calvary, where the skull of Adam had been found under the cross. The Stone of Anointing, just inside of the entrance, where Jesus was wrapped in the shroud. And finally, the Tomb of Jesus, the Holy Sepulcher, in the main rotunda. I was always under the impression that these places were a little farther apart, guess I was wrong. The whole area was an abandoned quarry that had been turned into tombs before the time of Jesus.
When we arrived at the church, our guide told us what time to meetup back in the courtyard. Guides are not permitted to talk inside of churches. That’s pretty universal all over. While we were supposedly touring the church, he set off to search for our lost woman. Remember her?! The courtyard was filled with people. The doors of the church seemed to be only open a tiny bit. Nobody was able to enter. We were all waiting and waiting, still no movement. A group of pilgrims carrying a cross entered the courtyard. We pretty much had resigned to the fact that we were not going to get inside of the church, so we relaxed for a while. I noticed the doors had opened and a few people were going inside. I guessed there was some sort of service going on, not sure though. We were running out of time. I went inside for a quick look around. Robbie, Kris and Kim stayed outside. I was able to see the Stone of Anointing and the Chapel of Adam. In the photo of the chapel, behind the alter is what looks like a picture frame. That is a window to view part of the Stone of Calvary in the area where Adam’s skull was found. In the photo of the Stone of Anointing, people are rubbing clothing on the marble slab to get the essence of Jesus. This slab of marble is on top of the actual Stone of Anointing to protect it. If I would have had more information, I could have seen the tomb as well. I was running out of time and I didn’t know exactly where it was. Our group had reassembled in the courtyard waiting for the guide to return. A short time later, he did return, with the lost woman, yeah! I’m not sure how he found her in the sea of people, but he did. We headed toward the bus at a pretty fast pace. Some people started asking the guide to slow down! As we exited the walls of Old Jerusalem we could see the Tower of David in the far corner of the wall. It was a long day and we had a two hour drive back to the ship. Despite a few issues, it was really great getting to see Old Jerusalem.
After visiting Bethlehem our tour continued on to Jerusalem. We stopped at the Mount of Olives, a mountain overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. The mountain at one time had been covered with olive groves. It’s now covered with Jewish graves. It has been a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. There are tens of thousands of graves. The mount has been the location throughout history for Jewish events as well as for Jesus and his disciples. The last supper was held somewhere on the mount, as were several other notable events. From the top of the mount you get a great view of old Jerusalem. The gold dome of the Dome of the Rock stands out prominently in old Jerusalem. The Dome stands on the Temple Mount; the sight where God stood before the Jewish people. The holiest place in Judaism. After the Jewish temple was destroyed, the Dome of the Rock was built over the rock where the Prophet Muhammad stood and ascended into Heaven, a very holy place for Muslims.
We moved to the base of the Mount of Olives to the Church of all Nations. The church is built next to the Garden of Gethsemane. After the last supper, Jesus went to the garden to pray about his death, known as the agony. There is an exposed rock near the church alter, said to be the rock Jesus prayed on. Jesus was betrayed and arrested in the garden. There are olive trees in the garden that were carbon dated to be 2,000 years old. There was a gardener working in the garden. He had a pile of olive branches he had raked up. I wish I would have thought to asked him for one of them. We returned to the bus to continue on to Old Jerusalem.
The Roman emperor Herod decreed that every citizen return to their home town to be counted in the census. Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary made the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census. Many other people also came to Bethlehem. When Joseph and Mary arrived, there was no room at the Inn. They were allowed to spend the night in the stable. Mary was very close to giving birth to her child. They filled a manger with straw to prepare for the birth of the child.
An angel appeared to the people and said “Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy. In Bethlehem, in the stable of an inn, Jesus, Our Savior, has been born.”
This was the first Christmas!
Merry Christmas everyone!
After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he underwent a series of trials. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to death by crucifixion. He was humiliated and taunted as he carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary. On Calvary hill he was nailed to the cross, he hung on the cross until he died. After his death he was removed from the cross and anointed with spices and oils and wrapped in linen cloth. After his body was prepared for burial, he was placed in the tomb. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven; he is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over the sites of Calvary and the tomb. On the lower level is the Stone of Unction, where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Upstairs is the Rock of Calvary. The tomb of Jesus is in the main rotunda.
After celebrating the Passover feast, that would come to be known as the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus moved to a rock to pray and agonize over what was to come. Jesus wanted his disciples to share his sadness and agony, but they fell asleep. Jesus was disheartened that they could not watch over him for only one hour. Jesus was betrayed and then arrested in the garden.
The Church of all Nations known as the Basilica of the Agony was built next to the Garden of Gethsemane over the rock that Jesus prayed on. The rock is visible by the alter.
I visited the Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine last month. It was an interesting place to visit. I thought it would be nice to make a Christmas post with some of the photos. Merry Christmas!