The good part about traveling standby is it is cheap and sometimes you get to travel First Class! But the bad part is you never really know if you’ll make it on the plane – or when. Recently my daughter and I wanted to travel to Israel via Newark, NJ. As soon as she got home from one of her trips we raced to the airport and caught a flight to Newark – she made it just as they were about to close the doors. But then, we waited and waited for the de-icing of the plane since an unexpected snow storm was causing snow to build up on the plane. Eventually we made it to Newark, and then waited an hour to get a gate and get off the plane (they were having the same freak weather as we had in DC). We weren’t worried – we had plenty of time before our flight to Israel! At the gate, we got boarding passes for our flight (this was great – we had seats!) but then… our flight got delayed a little while, then a little more, and more. At 2am it got CANCELLED – but we still had hope as they talked about getting a new plane for in the morning. We realized at 4am, when the flight from Tel Aviv (back to Newark) was cancelled, that there would be no new flight – now all 300 passengers would be scrambling to get on the next several flights and as standbys, we didn’t have a chance! So instead of waiting 2 days, we decided to travel to San Francisco at 6am – a 6 hour flight that we just barely made it on – Kate had to sit in the jump seat and I got the last available seat, which happened to be in First Class! We arrived early in the day there and then had a whole day to kill in the airport as the flight didn’t leave until 10pm. I spent the day chilling, just reading books and catching up on Facebook, wondering if we would make it on the flight that night and deciding we would just return home if we didn’t! At the appropriate time we made our way to the gate – and waited and waited. Would someone miss the flight so we could get on the plane? Yup! Fortunately for us some people missed the flight, so we were the last 2 to get on – way back in the back! Getting to the Promised land wasn’t easy! After 13 hours in the air, with children screaming, the sun rising and setting, and me “returning” my food (fortunately there wasn’t a line at the bathroom when I dashed there 3 times!), we landed – only to discover our ride wasn’t expecting us so we needed to find our own way to Jerusalem (not too difficult when expected but daunting without sleep for the last 48 hours). Finally, we made it – 49 hours after we started, the hardest trip by far!
ISRAEL!!! We made it! What to see, what to see???!!!! We knew we didn’t have much time (and then we lost a day!) so we wanted to make the most of it. After scouring lists and lists on line of the top things to see, we came up with our must sees:
- Hezekiah’s Tunnel – I had heard about this but had never visited. Hezekiah’s tunnel is a water tunnel carved underneath the City of David in Jerusalem in ancient times. It’s named as such as it is believed to be the tunnel King Hezekiah had built to prepare for an expected siege by the Assyrians. We put on our shorts and watershoes and began our trek. Within a few feet the water had risen to the tops of our thighs! But that level didn’t last long and then it stayed mid-calf. The tunnels weren’t wide and without our flashlight, completely dark – we could see where the torches would have been placed thousands of years ago! For a third of a mile we kept going and going until suddenly we were at the pool of Siloam. (To get back up to the starting point we chose, instead of taking the shuttle back, to walk through a different tunnel on an ancient street far underground from today’s street.
- The Southern Wall (of the Temple Mount) – Some of this has changed so much since John and I last visited 20+ years ago. The Southern wall had been just a pile of rubble – now it has been excavated and we not only see the wall but also could climb the steps to the Huldah Gate. (The gate was blocked when the Mosque was built) We saw many mikvahs (ritual baths) because when thousands came to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the temple, they all had to purify themselves. We also walked on top of part of the ancient city wall. (This was all part of the Davidson Center where they also had a brief movie explaining about the area)
- Western Wall and Western Wall Tunnel – I used to know this as the Wailing Wall. It says Jerusalem to me. We visited – and I learned that people, after saying their prayers at it, walk away from the wall backwards so they don’t turn their backs on God.
- For the tunnel, we fortunately were able to get a last-minute tour (you have to have a tour). There our guide explained so much about the Wall. Before the 6 days war the Wailing Wall was just an alley way, with houses all around and just feet from the wall. At the end of the war, a plaza was cleared out, making the area much larger. But then excavations were done below the street level, all along the wall of the Temple Mount. These excavations go all the way down to the end of the wall, where the wall incorporates the actual mountain which the Temple was built upon. She explained how the ground level raised – from the Romans throwing the temple stones over, to why the Western Wall is the place to pray (as opposed to the Southern or Eastern) because it is the closest spot to where the Temple Holy of Holies was located (the Jews even have a prayer wall inside the tunnel, even closer than the outside wall). Fascinating tour and I do highly recommend it!
- Mount of Olives – What a great place for a view of Jerusalem. We went late in the afternoon and it was almost completely empty of tourists! (The first picture of this post was taken from there).
- Garden of Gethsemane – Those olive trees are so very old! And they still harvest them and give the money proceeds to the poor. The church there is lovely.
- Garden Tomb – Located just outside the Damascus city gate, this is just a beautiful place! Unfortunately for us, every tour seemed to show up there on Saturday morning, so it wasn’t a very serene place. But, it was neat to hear different groups singing praises to God in several different languages. As we walked around the garden we always had music! And the best part? The tomb is EMPTY! He is RISEN!
- Church of the Holy Sepulcher – If we thought the garden tomb was busy, this was worse than Costco on the Saturday morning before Christmas! It really reminded me of the story of Jesus overturning the money changers’ tables as we saw people with crosses and rosaries putting them on various places in the church to make them “special”.
- Caiphas’ House at the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu – Unknown for certain, and of course, archaeologists don’t agree on this (after the sacking and burning of Jerusalem in 70AD, Josephus says very little was recognizable) but thought to be the place Peter denied Christ. Underneath the church, and house ruins, is a dungeon where Christ is thought to have been kept for the night before his crucifixion. There is a small opening for the prisoner to be lowered through and a small peephole for the guard to peer in through. All of this is carved out of the bedrock – and they have since opened another hole so visitors can walk in. I found it very sobering to think of what Christ went through that night. Outside the church excavations have uncovered steps, part of the ancient road, going down from Mount Zion – so Christ most likely did walk on them that night to get from the last supper to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Looking up hole Christ was lowered through
Ancient street steps
- Masada – the mountain Herod build his palace on and the last holdout where the Jews resisted the Romans. We took the cable car up – just 3 minutes versus the 45-minute hike up the snake path. There our guide explained the ruins, the water system (pretty ingenious to divert mountain water down the aqueducts to cisterns in the side of the mountain) and the story of the rebellious Sicarii Jews.
In 66 AD the Sicarii Jews overtook the Roman fort Masada. For 3 years they held it as a holdout to the Romans conquering their land. The Romans built a ramp but when they made it onto Masada, they discovered death and destruction. The leaders had drawn lots, and rather than be captured and enslaved or tortured, had killed everyone. The last man had killed himself (thus 950 died but only 1 committed suicide, the unpardonable sin). However, 2 women and 5 children had hidden and thus lived to tell the tale. So, Masada represents Jewish heroism and courage. A visit to Israel would not be complete without visiting it. And – it has a great view of the Dead Sea!
- The Dead Sea – Again, what would a trip to Israel be without swimming floating in the Dead Sea! Actually, we weren’t sure about getting in since just an hour earlier we’d been comfortable in our jeans and jackets but we couldn’t miss the opportunity! On arrival, we put on our swimsuits and hiked the long way down to the water (the Dead Sea is drying up and the shoreline keeps dropping). Kate wasn’t sure about putting the mud on her body but eventually did and then was amazed at how her skin felt afterwards. We then relaxed and floated in the water – what a unique experience!
That summed up our list from Israel because we just ran out of time! Because we had a 2-day trip planned for…
Our 2-day trip was absolutely amazing! A van picked us up in Jerusalem, the driver told us how to cross the Sheikh Hussein Bridge border and then we met our guide and bus for Jordan. We had 4 stops.
- Jerash – a Roman city with amazing ruins! It is one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis and is one of the best preserved Roman towns in the world. The theater still has a spot where if you stand and speak, your voice projects through out (so also do the bagpipes as they have a guy playing bagpipes all day, hoping to get tips – Jordan was once a British controlled area so, yes, bagpipes!).
- Amman – the capital of Jordan and the most populous city of the country. It also has an ancient citadel overlooking the city with beautiful ruins – large pillars from the temple to Hercules. We got there shortly before sunset, so the pictures were fun!
- Bedouin Camp – Sounded exotic so we chose this over the hotel option! It was beautiful as we drove in as they have soft lights (candles?) in the hills surrounding us and paths going around the site. We had our own tent with 2 beds, with lots of blankets on the beds. Which was good since there was no heat and the outside temperature dropped to about 40. Our guide told us that electricity would go off around midnight (so get our phones charged before then!) so, at 3am I wasn’t surprised that it was dark and cold outside when I had to get out of my bed, get dressed and use my phone as a flashlight to make my way to the toilet house. But, I was surprised that it was raining and that the toilets don’t work when the electric water pump gets turned off!
- PETRA! We arrived early in the morning and our guide told us all about the area as we walked in. He showed us carvings done in the walls and then had us walk backwards at a certain point – only to have us turn around and see the Treasury at Petra. It was incredible. What you don’t realize before going though is that there is lots to see in Petra – and it is quite spread out. After the Treasury the ground opens to great wide spaces – and temples and amphitheaters and more.
The Monastery is located more than a mile away and up a steep mountain, but we decided to go for it. It was just as impressive – with fewer people making the trek! On our return we decided to cut off some time walking and give our legs a break– by taking a camel! After bargaining and bargaining, we struck a deal with a camel owner and rode back to the treasury by camel. And, by the way, it was a cool experience but riding a camel is not really very comfortable.
We also had some absolutely great food on our trip! We ate shawarma at every opportunity we could! Grilled chicken in a pita pocket with humus and garlic sauce and veggies – Yum!! And in Jordan our guide stopped the bus in Amman and went and bought us Kanafeh, a traditional pastry made of goat cheese, crunchy noodles, honey and a sprinkle of pistachios of top. Sounds kinda weird but oh, it was so good!
So, with 1.5 days in Jerusalem, 2 days in Jordan and a day at Masada/Dead Sea, it was time to pack up and return to the States. We caught dinner in Tel Aviv with some old friends – homeschooling moms reunite – and have lives after homeschooling!
Then, unlike our trip over, we had no problems getting back! We left at 10pm from Tel Aviv, flew to Newark and caught the first plane back to DC. At 8am I crashed in my bed at home! What a fantastic trip!
Roman Cardo (main street)
Theater in Jerash