On Thursday morning we left Petra and rode in our comfortable bus to Tel Aviv, saying goodbye to dear Osama, who left us before the border crossing into Israel. Getting through customs was a lengthy series of sometimes non-understandable stations; it took our small group over two hours for everyone to process through, but finally we all made it and there was our new guide, Zvi, waiting for us. A quiet hour's ride in a very uncomfortable little van was the next step; I kept wishing for information about what we would see, where we were, personal stories, anything to distract us from the silent boredom of that comfortless ride, but there were still five people who had not yet joined our Jordan group, still flying into the country, so it seemed we had to wait until we were complete. The best thing was we were told we would have a bigger, better, more comfortable bus for the rest of our travels in Israel. At our hotel in Tel Aviv a lovely surprise awaited us: their Happy Hour, up on the roof of the sister hotel across the street, was free, with unlimited foods and wine, so many good foods and wine refills offered that one did not need dinner afterwards. Delightful, and quite restoring after a not very pleasant or easy day. In this relaxing setting we met the newcomers, and simply and beautifully gelled into a bigger genial group.
The next morning we left Tel Aviv to drive to Jaffa, an ancient city that could be the world's oldest seaport. It was lovely just to spend the sunny morning exploring Old Jaffa; the crowded flea market reminded me a bit of Thailand's markets with similar smells and things to buy, although the markets I knew and frequented there were much larger, considerably more intense in their closeness and intricate windings; it was much easier to quickly become lost in those crazily compacted, jumbled together, less than clean Thai markets. In Jaffa we only got disoriented for a minute or two, plus I was exploring with new friends, so it was much more fun. (And we all spoke the same language.)
Friday afternoon we were back in Tel Aviv, facing an unscheduled time for the group. Four of us headed to the boardwalk, the promenade. Such gorgeous weather, but still not hot enough for me to go swimming. I really wanted to stick my feet into the eastern Mediterranean though, but our goal this afternoon was to walk north to where the Yarkon River branches off from the Sea, to find and walk in the green Ha'yarkon Park. After hiking alongside the beautiful sea for miles and finally heading inland, inadvertently making many very wrong turns along the way, we met up with two others also on our tour who were also relatively lost, so after again asking random people for directions our expanded group now continued on. Eventually finding and walking over the pedestrian bridge crossing the Yarkon River felt victorious, and seeing the beautiful green of the park was a reward for our lengthy little adventure. But it didn't end there. I had intended to go back the same way, to see the Mediterranean again and walk along the boardwalk, and, on the way "home" to step into the water to at least bathe my feet. I like to swim in or touch the water everywhere I travel, and while I had been in other parts of this beautiful sea, I hadn't dipped into this easternmost part yet. But consensus was to walk back a shorter way (although there really was no short way back), winding through busy city streets, turning the wrong way again and again, hoping to get back to our hotel in time for their lovely free Happy Hour. We guessed we had walked maybe six or seven miles that afternoon, maybe more, an afternoon's good constitutional, so were looking forward to refreshing ourselves. Even though I wanted to I did not touch the Sea that day.
On Saturday we left Tel Aviv and drove in our now beeping bus (some kind of mechanical malfunctioning, irritating, but most of us agreed it was probably better than the squealing brakes on our Jordan van, screeching at every acute turning while plummeting down heart-stoppingly steep curving roadways) to Cesarea, another incredibly stunning ancient seaport city on the Mediterranean coast. Now a National Park, Cesarea was originally a Phoenician settlement, rebuilt and greatly enlarged by Herod in 22 - 10 BCE. We saw the remains of Herod's swimming pools, and learned where his artificial harbors were located, protected by breakwaters built of concrete and stone. Eventually an important center for early Christianity, the Crusaders came and built thick, high walls for protection; we walked through tunnels to a museum below, seeing creative educational displays and trying our hands at games they played, similar to ones we still play today, eg: Nine Men's Morris, ring toss, peg games. We walked in the glorious hot sun viewing the extensive gardens that had been there, the latrine system, wells, the hippodrome. I don't remember any particular amphitheatre there, but I'm certain that Herod had one built.
After Cesarea we travelled to Nazareth. Here we wandered through places Jesus walked, but I don't think he would recognize this crowded, busy area today. Stopping in the Church of the Annunciation, where it is said that Gabriel told Mary about bearing Jesus, was quietly impressive. In the silence, hundreds of people threaded through, looking or praying, experiencing this religious historic site each in his or her own way. Whether or not this story is believed doesn't seem to make a difference; even though I did not feel any special energy there I was glad to see this church and be in this holy area. However Jesus was conceived he was one of the greatest teachers, prophets, and spiritual leaders of all time, and this was the locality where he lived, where he learned carpentry from Joseph, where he walked. On this gorgeous, golden day we were following in his footsteps.
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