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Published: December 27th 2015
The Israeli experience has been amazing. Security has been very tight. For example, all 4000 passengers had to get their passports checked by immigration before leaving the ship. It was a new cruising experience as you get used to wandering freely in and out of European countries.
The immigration procedure involved standing in a line for an hour and a half before making it to the presence of a number of very surly and well armed Israeli officials who looked like they had been drinking cocktails. Best to just line up and be quiet in such situations I have found. Not so the German man further back in the queue! He was very stroppy and had to be calmed by other passengers. There were no ship's staff around anywhere to control the chaos. We hear this really funny comment by a german MSC woman yesterday. She said that Germans are world class at economics and complaining. They do seem to make an art form of it!
Our Israeli adventure started with taxi trip to Nazareth, Cainan, Galilee and the Jordan River. Liz, Alan and I groaned when we saw the size of the taxi.
It was very squashy in the back seat, nevertheless we put on a stiff upper lip and carried on regardless. Well two out of the three of us were British! Peter lorded it over us from the front.
It didn't take us long to realise that we were with the dodgy brothers taxi company. When taxi drivers say you can trust me, it's time to run! Anyway we made it to Nazareth and saw the Church of the Ascension where the news of Jesus birth was announced by the Angel Gabriel. It was really beautiful. Very small and pretty and amazingly few tourists there.
The walls inside and out were covered with mosaics of Mary created by different countries. I've included a couple of photos. None from Australia but there was an Indonesian one. Go figure!! We then went to the scene of Jesus' first miracle, the wedding feast at Canna where he turned the water into wine. Amazingly the site is not a reception centre, but a church now!
The dodgy bit of the trip came when the taxi driver demanded more money to go to the Jordan River. Peter sorted him out quick smart. The
rest of us cowered in the back of the cab hoping we didn't get robbed and tossed in the Jordan River. It was one of the few times that I Thought uh oh..may not make it back. We arrived back to the ship about 8:00pm and made a beeline to the bar to reflect on how lucky we'd been when Peter announced that the taxi's fuel tank was almost empty for most of the trip home. Breaking down on the highway from Nazareth to Haifa would not have been a good thing. One can only what the breakdown service would have been like?
Next day, with great anticipation, we were on the bus at 7:00am sharp to begin the two hour + drive to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We visited many famous biblical sites. A day later I am still trying to get everything straight in my mind. We started off at the Old City of Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall which was much smaller than I expected and there was no wailing. It wasn't even crowded. I managed to touch the wall and say a prayer. It was interesting to see the notes stuck in the crevices. Apparently these
are from people who can't actually get there in-person.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I managed to fall over a bollard at the entrance and injure my back. Boy that was fun. I was distracted looking at the guard's rifle. Any way as I opened my eyes after falling I was greeted with the site of men who looked like rabbis, two of whom were armed with pistols. They hauled me up and having satisfied themselves that I was just a silly middle aged woman rather than a terrorist threat, I limped away.
The rest of the day was filled with amazing highlights. We walked the Via Dolorosa (considered to be one of the holiest roads anywhere in the world) through the old town of Jerusalem which is basically a very crowded Eastern bazaar composed of twisting and turning alleys. We started in the Jewish quarter, made our way though the Muslim quarter and then into the Christian quarter. All of this just co-exists with each one melding into the other. Each quarter has its own distinctive architecture and atmosphere. It's like someone drew a line and that's where each religion stopped its activities and the other
one started. The smells, sights and sounds were amazing: calls to prayer, bells ringing, smells of aromatic spices, the whole works.
Armed Military/security personnel were everywhere. Amidst all of this chaos we visited several Stations of the Cross. All pretty low key. We managed to touch most of them. It was mind blowing! We then visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which includes the "site" of the Cross, Jesus' tomb and the stone where he was washed. Incredibly we managed to see all of these amazing artefacts without being too crowded, particularly as it was 2 days before Christmas.
After experiencing all of these wonderful things we met our travelling companions everyone at the main entrance to the Old City, the Jaffa Gate, which was built by Suleiman
in 1538. After a quick stroll we were back on the road to Palestine to visit Bethlehem.
We later found out that About 10 minutes after we left the Jaffa Gate, there was a stabbing/shooting incident. Two people shot dead and one injured. The Palestinian/Israeli conflict came a wee bit to close for comfort on the 23rd December 2015. Thank you to all gods, prophets and saviours for
keeping us safe. Love sandra and peter. Xx
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