Tuesday, December 26, 1995

1995 Israel: Nazareth and Sea of Galilee (12/25-26/1995)

Monday, December 25, 1995
Merry Christmas! In the middle of the night, Brynne called out for me and I went in to find she had had a bloody nose. She managed to miss her pajamas, but blood was smeared on her face and arms. I stripped the bed and scrubbed the blood off the pillow and out of the pillowcase and sheets, then put them in the laundry. Dot was still up watching the Midnight Mass on Bethlehem on television. I apologized and explained what happened to Brynne, then sat to watch the end of the Mass. Arafat was sitting next to the American Consulate General. Tom had made a last run to the consulate last evening for mail, and heard they were not sending any cars of American consulate employees to the Midnight Mass as they usually do, only the Consulate General went. There were reports that Jews were blockading the road to Bethlehem. Traffic was expected to be chaotic anyhow, and no cars were allowed into the town. Anyone who wanted to drive would get only as far as Rachel’s Tomb, then would have to walk. I was able to see Communion and hear the music and choir. At the end of the Mass, they took baby Jesus from the manger scene under the altar down the stairs to the Grotto. The Mass is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church of St Catherine, and was concelebrated by Patriarchs of the various Eastern Orthodox sects. In St Catherine’s you go down to the grottoes, where one is dedicated to the Innocents, the male children Herod had killed. This is connected to the grotto directly under the Church of the Nativity, which is shared by the Greek Orthodox (who celebrate Christmas on January 6/7), the Franciscans, and the Armenians (who celebrate Christmas on January 24/25). This grotto was a cave, but has since been reamed out, plastered, and decorated beyond recognition. There is a 14-point bronze star under the altar with the Latin inscription “Hic de Virgine Mary Jesus Christus Natus Est/Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born.” A manger in the cave is consistent with the regional historic practice of using shallow limestone caves for shelter, storage, or back rooms to houses built up to them. So the baby Jesus from the Mass was laid down on the bronze star indicating the site of His birth. The television show then went to the Midnight Mass at the Vatican with the Pope presiding. I went to bed, where it was difficult sleeping with Brynne in a twin bed.
Up at 6:00 and Brynne was motivated to get up as she went to see if Santa left anything here (the American Girl Write Stuff Kit). Brynne wondered how Santa got in because there was no fireplace. Breakfast of fruit and cereal. Tom was up to drive us to the Hotel Laromme again. This time we made it to the lobby to find a seat and wait. We took walks to look in the hotel shop windows; very pricey things. Saw prints of the Chagall windows, a dozen he designed for the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. There was a display of used menorahs and hanukkiahs; the holiday is over now. An American-Jewish tour group rushed around in the lobby. We waited until 7:45, when we were told not to be later than 7:15. Finally a tour guide called out our name and another, and we took a bus meandering through the streets until we reached the Egged office. We had to go in the office to pay for our tickets before boarding another bus. It took a long time because there was only one woman selling tickets, and she kept having to ask questions of another employee. The computer was in Hebrew! Our name was there under reservations, but because it was under the hotel name, it was assumed we paid a deposit, which we had not. She could not get the computer to charge us the full fare, and had to do it by hand, $49 per adult and $44 per child. We used our new Visa card as the old one was cancelled by Fidelity because people in FL and CA had tried to charge $4500 and $5000 on it respectively!
A full bus load took off along the same route we took towards the Dead Sea. In leaving Jerusalem, the guide pointed out a housing development on the hilltop, which the government built for the Bedouins. Once they have a house, they are no longer Bedouins/wanderers or nomads, but “just Arabs.” On a slope to the right was Bethany/El-Azariya, which is east of Jerusalem. Bet-Hany means the town of the poor, and this was where Jesus stayed during his time in Jerusalem, with the poor. This is also where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. High above us was a Jewish settlement, which they were in the process of fortifying with a tall wall. This may have been Ma’aleh Adumin, built in the 1970s as a bedroom community to Jerusalem. As a Jewish West Bank settlement it was too isolated and was spared in the friction with the Palestinian Arabs. When we passed the Bedouin encampments, the guide was quick to point out the one or two cars per family, the tractors, and TV antennas. Today we saw more herds of goats and sheep.
Bedouin camp
Saw a wandering group of donkeys and a few camels on their own. Previously the only camels we had seen were at photo op sites! Passed the Red Ascent/Ma’aleh Adumin (same name as the settlement) and the Inn of the Good Samaritan. We zipped by the sea level marker and descended down toward the Dead Sea. After passing the road to Jericho, we turned north on a bypass between Jericho and the Jordan River. The oasis of Jericho and the Mount of Temptation were pointed out. Passed a lot of agriculture, the date palms and banana plantations. All the bunches of bananas were covered in plastic, to enhance their ripening I guess. In the fertile fields they can get two crops per year. The guide pointed out wheat and eggplant. Saw an orange grove. We were traveling on a flat plain with Jericho to our left and the Jordan River somewhere to the right with the mountains of Jordan beyond it.
Past the agricultural area, the land appeared to be bulldozed flat, perhaps the no-man’s land between warring nations? Across the Jordan River in Jordan was a church, said to be built where St John the Baptist baptized Jesus. We passed the Allenby Bridge, accessing across the Jordan River to Jordan, but all we could see was a road disappearing into the grass. The bridge must be a flat road over a stream! Later we saw a monument with a plane or a missile that Golda Meir dedicated in memory of those who fought in the war in 1967. We saw a tank-like turret, probably a half-buried old tank used as a gun emplacement.
Tank emplacement
Saw a couple of these to the left and to the right were barbed wire and signs saying “No photographs.” We still passed occasional Bedouin encampments with TV antennas and herds. Came to another fertile area with red soil, perhaps washed down from Mount Gilboa, which was to our left. Mount Gilboa was where Saul was defeated by the Philistines and was killed. David cursed the mountain saying “let there be no rain or dew on you.” (So maybe fertile soil did not wash down from this mountain!)
In the area of Bet She’an we headed northwest away from the Jordan River, and passed the kibbutz (Merhavia) where Golda Meir once lived.
Golda Meir's former kibbutz
City of Nazareth
We soon arrived in Nazareth, a sprawling city, still growing, over several hillsides. There were new square flat-roofed houses, with new additions on top for married children. We started to see Christmas decorations!
Christmas decorations in Nazareth
The bus stopped near a hotel, and we were let off to souvenir shop, get a cup of coffee, and use the restrooms. We lined up to use the restrooms upstairs, but apparently there was no electricity, as it was very dark. In the bathroom and in each stall they had set a lit candle. By the time Brynne and I got in a stall, the electricity came on. We browsed through the shop (lots of wooden nativity sets), and I bought postcards of things I thought we might see today. Waited outside, and finally two tour groups went off together, following our guide, Shimson, who carried a kerchief on an extendable pointer. He led us up a narrow street where we had to move aside for oncoming cars. Saw giant man-sized poinsettia plants, and a pomegranate bush with old withered fruit.
Brynne and Kent with
double man-sized poinsettias
Basilica of the Annunciation
At one point we had a view of the Basilica of the Annunciation, which someone likened to a lighthouse. It was a modern church, and none of Nazareth now looked like the boyhood home of Jesus!
Basilica of the Annunciation fa├žade
It was bustling in front of the church when we arrived, and we joined the crowds entering. On the front were 20th century mosaics of Mary and Child. This is the largest church in the Middle East, consecrated in 1969. Franciscan run, it was built on the site of Crusader and Byzantine ruins over a small hewn grotto held by tradition to be the place of the Annunciation, and home of Mary. The Annunciation (pronounced Announce-iation by our guide) was when the angel Gabriel was sent to tell the Virgin Mary that she shall bear a son and shall call him Jesus.
Basilica bronze door
We were taken in past large modern bronze doors to a smaller doorway leading to a large basement, with Crusader walls along one side, and Byzantine mosaics on the floor below a semicircular railing. The mosaics are significant in that they have crosses. Crosses on the floor date back to this period, because soon afterward it was forbidden to depict the cross on the floor. Beyond the mosaics we could see into a grotto, and a priest appeared to be saying Mass at an altar there.
Peek into grotto allegedly at the site
of the home of Mary and the Annunciation
We were to keep quiet because Christmas Mass was in progress, but that was in the main church upstairs. We went upstairs and were told to file quietly through the back of the church and then outside. We were encouraged to take photos, but that was difficult due to the crowd attending Mass. Missed the Italian ceramic Stations of the Cross and looking up into the cupola that was supposed to look like the petals of a lily (for purity). We did see immense Italian mosaic behind the altar, and the panels of mosaics on the walls representing the Catholic communities abroad who contributed to building the church. Unable to pick out the United States, Canada, Japan (gold and peach), Australia, Venezuela (carved wooden statue), or Cameroon (black, white, brick-red). We saw a model of ancient Nazareth and a nativity scene with moving figures.
Basilica of the Annunciation nativity scene
We happened to exit the church as Mass was letting out, and we lost some of our tour group in the confusion. Outside, the baptistery is said to have been built over an ancient mikveh/Jewish ritual bath, and you could look down at the remains.
Church of St Joseph sculpture
We were then taken “next door” to the Church of St Joseph, which was supposed to be over the site of his carpenter workshop. No evidence of that now as we looked at some artifacts, perhaps a wine press, and a cistern, plus steps down to a deeper storage area. This church was built over an older one and Kent and Brynne sat on the older wall at bench level, in the upper church. After going outside to wait for the rest of the group (it was the Germans who got lost), someone asked about the type of tree growing next to us. The guide was not sure, but did identify the huge tree behind us as a rubber tree planted by Pope Pius VI. Our guide had been giving his commentary in English, but repeated it in German for the benefit of at least one of the four Germans. One Japanese tourist started the tour with his video camera trained on the guide, which the guide did not like. He felt the camera should be pointed away at the landmarks and scenery. And besides, wouldn’t his friends like a videotape in Japanese? During the bus ride, the guide tried to sell a videotape about Israel that you could get in any language and any format.
We had to hurry onward, and did not visit Mary’s Well. The Greek Orthodox believe the angel Gabriel came to Mary when she was at the Well, and built the Church of St Gabriel at the site of a well. We returned to the bus and boarded. We drove around the city of Nazareth to see how expansive this modern city really was. On a hillside outside the town was a ruin of a Byzantine church. At some point the guide pointed in the direction of Mount Tabor, on which the Church of the Transfiguration was located, on the site where Jesus stood and was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, and Moses and Elijah appeared. We drove through the town of Kafr Kanna, or Cana, which is home to the Circassians (Russian steppe Muslims). We passed the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nathaniel, which claims to have the original jars in which Jesus turned water into wine. Next was the Cana Wedding Church built over a grotto where the wedding supposedly took place, the one where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.
Umm, Franciscan Wedding Church and the
Greek Orthodox Wedding Church in Cana
We came to the city of Tiberias, zipping through to head north along the shore of the Sea of Galilee/Kinneret. This sea is where Jesus walked on water, calmed a storm, and caused the nets of one disciple to be full of fish. The village of Migdal was pointed out, the home of Mary Magdalene. We did not stop at Kibbutz Ginosaur, which houses the 2,000-year old 28-foot long fishing boat found during a drought in January 1986, and is now in a preservation solution at the Yigal Allon Center. Of course they cannot say it was the boat in which Jesus stood, but it seems to be from his time. We arrived at a point where above us we could see the 1937 Church of Franciscan Sisters on the Mount of Beatitudes, site of the Sermon on the Mount.
Church of Franciscan Sisters on the Mount of Beatitudes
Below us was the German Benedictine Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, built in 1981 in Byzantine style. It was also in this region of Tabgha that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his death, breakfasted on the miraculous catch of fish, and said the Peter three times, “Feed my sheep,” to establish his primacy in the Church. The Church of the Primacy of St Peter is built over a flat rock called Mensa Domini/Lord’s Table at the water’s edge.
Colorful blooms in Capernaum
Bougainvillea (PBB)
We stopped at Capernaum/Kafr Nahum, ruins where Jesus spent his three years of ministry, teaching, healing, and calling together His disciples. A modern building was constructed over the foundation of Simon Peter’s house, but it was closed.
St Peter's Memorial
It supposedly has a glass floor for a view on the ruins.
There were remains of homes, with water jars and a threshing rock.
House ruins with water jars
The largest ruin was of a synagogue made from a Roman building.
Because the building faced the wrong way, they closed the doorways in the front and created new front doors in the back. The women had a balcony.
Blackened wall supposedly from the time of Jesus
There was a school and playground next to the synagogue, and the play area had etchings on the floor to play games with stones similar to mandala, the African stone game.
Ancient board game
Other remains to be seen were a mile/distance marker, and an olive press.
Mile marker
Olive press
Back in the bus we returned to Tiberias, the only city on the Sea of Galilee. The Sanhedrin was based here in the 4th century AD and made the final compilation of Jewish oral law into the Talmud.
We were taken to the Lido Restaurant for lunch, and encouraged to get the sit-down meal in order to sample tilapia or amnun/St Peter’s fish caught here in this sea.
Fried St Peter's fish
We ordered one fried St Peter’s fish dinner, and one roasted chicken dinner, with three waters. We sat at a table with four Japanese, a couple who lived in London and two gentlemen from Japan. One was the one with the video camera, which he carried around on a tripod over his shoulder. The meal started with pita bread and meze, although different from what we had in Jericho. There was the plain and green hummus, what seemed to be well-cooked carrots in tomato sauce, peas and carrots in a mayonnaise type concoction, marinated eggplant, and a salad mix of cabbage, cucumber, and tomato. The fried St Peter’s fish was served whole. I ate one side and then switched with Kent. The white fish meat melted in your mouth with the taste being from the fried coating. Brynne had some bread and chicken. The roasted chicken was good, too, and very moist. The Japanese gentlemen had brought their own chopsticks and tiny squeeze bottles of soy sauce. One took a photo of his fish, then carefully ate it, to be able to photograph the clean skeleton! Dessert was fresh dates, big ones the size of a film canister, and juicy. We used the restrooms before we left. The waiter told us our bill total orally and mentioned that service was not included. We left 120 NIS with a 20 NIS tip.
Lido 3 tour boat
Our group was told to go out on the dock and wait for “Lido 3,” one of the tour boats. This was the typical tour boat, but there was a boat made of wood with a canopy, apparently the style that sails on the Nile River. We saw a couple wooden fishing boats, in the style of the time of Jesus, except bow they have rear-board motors. When Lido 3 arrived and discharged their load of tourists, we boarded and got a railing seat on the open top deck (with canopy). We later learned these boats cater only to tour buses. If you visit as an individual, you can only get on the boat if the tour guide allows you to go with his group. This boat was chock full. We sat next to Americans from Texas and the woman gave Brynne a candy cane because she was coughing. We had wanted to buy more film and hard candy, but there was no shop at this restaurant. I was on my last roll of film, but it ended up being enough. The boat made a big circle out onto the Sea of Galilee for about 20 minutes. It was very calm, making it difficult to imagine a storm here! The hazy Golan Heights, on the other side of the sea, are being negotiated to be returned to Syria in exchange for peace. There was no commentary, just music. Some passengers clapped and sang along, especially whoever was sitting right next to the speakers. When we got back, we boarded the buses. We had brought along a Kleenex box for Brynne, and hung a plastic bag on a hook in front of us to collect used tissues, and to serve as the “barf bag.” However, Brynne did not have such problems today.
We drove through the city of Tiberius where the ancient walls were pointed out, as some were now incorporated into walls of newer buildings, all of blackened stone. The Franciscan Church of St Peter was mentioned, where Jesus supposedly entrusted Peter with his flock (was this different than the primacy?). We passed Hammat Tiberias, the hot mineral spring from the upheavals of the fault line of the Great Syrian-African Rift. Legend is that Solomon wanted to take a hot bath, and used his authority to force the devils underground to heat the water. This made Solomon and his subjects happy, but what if Solomon were to die? So Solomon made the devils deaf so they would never hear of his death, and would continue to heat water to avoid the wrath of Solomon. We passed the spa with a steaming pool out front.
Our next stop was a diamond factory, the Caprice. Kent and I had previously discussed looking at diamonds when we thought we were going to Tel Aviv, and I had researched diamond prices back at Emerald Square Mall. I learned the grading of diamonds according to cut, clarity, and color, as well as size. I had been given a chart, and shown an average half carat diamond solitaire ring for $1,800. According to quality, a half carat diamond could cost from $600-$18,000. I did not have this chart with me and felt a bit uneasy about deciding the quality of a diamond. Our group was given a brief tour, explaining the quality determination through size, cut, color, and clarity. Although Israel is not a source of diamonds, it seems nearly half the world’s diamonds come through here to be cut and finished, making the country the largest seller of diamonds in the world. It was easy to forget today was Christmas Day, in seeing all the workers busy inspecting diamonds, cutting (actually grinding) facets, and making the settings. We were then ushered into the Caprice showroom, like a large department store jewelry department. Cases with all kinds of jewelry with all kinds of gemstones. We headed to the solitaires and looked at a few rings. A 36-point diamond seemed the most brilliant in a classic setting: the price included the 10% value added tax (discounted if you paid in foreign currency and promised to take out of Israel). For this tour group they were discounting an additional 10%. The woman salesperson was quick to go to her manage to get a “best deal” price, which was about a third off the original price, which in itself seemed like a decent price. But without my chart, I could not determine the quality with the numbers given: K/SI2. So the woman called over the gemologist who explained ‘K’ meant barest faint yellow category, and SI2 meant middle quality flawless with small inclusions. So it seemed to be an average quality diamond selling at the lower end of the price range for a half carat diamond without the setting, and this was more of a third carat diamond. The gemologist was willing to go through loose diamonds in our price range, and would have it set while we waited. The saleswoman showed him our “manager’s price” and he said, “Very good.” But because this ring fit and looked fine with the wedding band, we went for it. I had the Visa card to charge the purchase and we had to go through the formality of the VAT, just in case I did not take it out of Israel. The ring was packed in a funny little red box and put into a plastic bag with the receipts. The bag was heat sealed and could not be opened until after we went through passport control when leaving Israel. So all I had to show for my money was a little plastic bag! The process took a long time, but the tour bus willingly waited for any paying customers! I used the restroom and ran out to the bus, the last one to board. As well as receipts, I had a “jewellery certificate” and a chart of quality. On their chart, the ‘K’ was on the top of the faint yellow color, but was also in the lower end of the tinted white category in my chart from Hannoush Jewelers. The SI2 was middle quality clarity and fit within the average range as considered by Hannoush. The diamond I had priced was larger, and a step above in color and clarity, but I still felt I had paid about half of what I might have paid in the United States. But of course I wondered if I should have held out for a bigger discount?!
It was dusk as we drove down the coast of the Sea of Galilee and on to the town of Yardenit (the Jordan River is Ha-Yarden in Hebrew). This was a spot on the river that was accessible to Christian pilgrims, because we cannot access the southern reaches of the river where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, as it was too close to Jordanian territory. It was supposed to be picturesque, which was hard to tell at dusk. Steps and ramps were built down to the water for baptisms of pilgrims. The water level seemed low, there was a smell of stale sewage, and lots of algae on the steps. We were encouraged to dip our toes in the river (more like a sluggish stream), but if we wanted to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan, we could do it in our hotel showers!
Tamiko and Brynne at the River Jordan (KSS)
We did not dip our toes, only our hands, and we did fill a film canister half full of water from the River Jordan. This was obviously encouraged because the gift shop sold empty plastic bottles! We bought postcards and a bag of sesame pretzels, and browsed the gift shop until sent back to the bus. It was dark now as we began the long drive back to Jerusalem.
Bus tour participants
Brynne soon fell asleep and we let her stretch across two seats. Kent read and dozed, and I dozed a bit, too. Back in Jerusalem, some people were let off at the American colony, which looked like slums in our view through the window! The next stop was Hotel Laromme, although we were actually let off a block away. The guide said we traveled 300 miles today. We tipped the driver and the guide a total of 20 NIS.
We walked back to the Ls’ apartment, arriving about 19:45. A long day, but a Merry Christmas. It is necessary to remember that the weather and landscape here was what it was like at the very first Christmas, not our idea of cold and snow, and evergreen trees! Dot made spaghetti and salad, with bread and butter for dinner, plus desserts. Again, we had to think about going to bed early, since we had a very early start tomorrow morning. Said goodnight, goodbye and thank-you to the Ls. They offered to pick up a couple more souvenirs for us, since we had had limited shopping time.

Tuesday, December 26, 1995
We were up at 4:00, as the sherut was to arrive between 4:45-5:00 to take us to Ben Gurion Airport. We were just ready when we heard the honk, at possibly 4:44! We hoped we had everything as we grabbed our bags and ran out. We were the first into this sherut with an electric door. We sat in the back row, and one by one we picked up four more men before heading to the airport. Arrived shortly after 6:00, paid the driver 30 NIS each. We were two hours early for the 8:05 flight to London, but were warned it would take all that time to go through all the security procedures. In fact, usually they want you there three hours early, but the sherut dispatcher knows best, I suppose! It was not very busy this early in the morning, and we were only about the third in line to go through the security check. The fellow asked what our business was, where we stayed, and they wanted a phone number. He asked where we went each day, where we ate, and did we talk to or visit anyone else. He wanted to see the receipt from the Egged bus tour, and also asked the standard questions of to whom these bags belonged and did you pack them yourself, have they been in your possession the whole time, and has anyone asked you to carry something for them, etc. Our tickets and luggage then received little yellow stickers, and we went to the airline check-in line. The airline personnel overseas seem incredibly slow compared to their US counterparts. We had to show our tickets to go through the door to the gates, and then there was passport control. We stood behind the yellow line as requested, and other people crowded up to the booth! So we moved towards one booth, but the clerks were chatting, so we went to another to have the passports stamped without even looking at Brynne. Next we had to go through X-ray, without any questions asked. We followed signs to VAT refunds, at a bank. I handed over my little plastic bag, which the bank clerk opened and had me sign one of the papers inside. He handed me the ring box and another piece of paper. I opened the ring box to be sure the ring was still in there! We changed our leftover NIS to $78, meaning we had spent just over $400 in cash in Israel, plus credit card charges. We got ourselves breakfast of a chocolate croissant, a large Hanukkah jelly donut, and coffee for Kent. We had taken the pomelo and cut it in half. It looked like a grapefruit with a slightly pointed end, and the skin was very thick. We spooned out the fruit, which was extremely sweet, but tasted just like grapefruit. We paid for breakfast in dollars. We wandered through the various shops and found a candy kiosk to get some hard candies for Brynne’s cough. Her fever seems to have broken. And now it is just the cough. The airport has a synagogue. We went to sit by the gate.
A group of Chinese men were smoking away under a ‘No Smoking’ sign. As it started to get light outside, we were called to board the plane, having our tickets checked for yellow stickers once again. Went down the ramp and outside to board a bus that we took to a British Airways 737. Since we were let out of the rear of the bus, we had to board at the rear of the plane, even though our seats were closer to the front. We had the three seats in the middle of the plane with aisles on both sides. This flight had free headphones and a movie! I was dead-tired and dozed quite a bit, but did see some of the movie “Santa Clause.” We were served breakfast of an egg omelet, smoked fish, roll and butter, yogurt, and beverages. Except for the movie, Brynne slept, but Kent stayed awake.
We arrived in London pretty much on time at 11:35 local time. We followed signs for flight connections, but still had to go through passport control, but the official saw by our tickets that we were “in transit” in London.  Through the nothing to declare lane, then through X-ray. I somehow set off the metal detector and was patted down. We had to go through the security grilling before checking in at American Airlines. We headed to our gate, but on the way we saw the Admiral’s Club and stopped in.
Kent and Brynne at the Admirals Club at London Heathrow Airport
The man at reception asked which flight we had, and mentioned it may be delayed, and he would announce when it was time to board. We were able to sit and relax for a while, where there are free drinks, snacks, cracker and cheese. It was close to the 13:30 departure time when we boarded our plane. Another 737 and this time our three seats were right behind the bulkhead, meaning we had to find places for our carry-on luggage (we only had two suitcases and one backpack, although Brynne received a bag on the British Airways flight that contained a white cap, a travel set of playing cards, and an activity book). We were right in front of the movie screen. The same CNN news was shown for the beginning of the flight. Then the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.” Later they showed “The Amazing Panda Adventure,” so that Brynne got to see it after all. Three movies today, but I was still dead-tired and dozed often. We had beverages and peanuts, then a meal with a choice of chicken, steak, or pizza. We got the pizza for Brynne, but she didn’t like the Uno-style deep dish personal pizza and there was no pepperoni… So Kent and I shared the pizza, along with our chicken and string beans, roasted potato wedges, salad with ranch dressing, bleu cheese with crackers, and a gooey brownie sitting in honey with a strawberry on top. Later we received a snack of a ham and cheese sandwich, chocolate chip cookie, and a bunch of grapes, and bags of potato chips. Brynne was asleep, so we saved her the grapes and chips. We filled out our landing card for US customs and learned we could bring in $400 each duty free. So we declared the ring and a few souvenirs. They also asked if we had fruit, meat or plants, and we still had two tangerines from Israel, so we declared them also. Since we had left London at 14:30 (personnel were getting irritable because people were not taking their seats, and they yelled at some poor man who had an empty seat next to him, but he did not know that seatmate). The flight was to take six hours and 55 minutes due to headwinds, so we were to arrive at NY JFK at 9:30 London time (11:30 Israeli time), which was about 16:30 local time, and the actual time when we arrived. We followed the arrows for US citizens upon deplaning, and stood in a fairly long line. Sent as a family to a passport official who stamped us in without question. We joined a longer “line” funneling down to customs where we handed in the landing card, and were asked about the fruit. We were told to take the tangerines to the men in black jackets, who confiscated them. We found there was a 17:15 flight to Providence and hurried to the gate. Kent hurried ahead, but there was X-ray to deal with, and we needed our tickets to pass through. Kent hurried ahead again, and had us put on standby. The lady at the gate kept asking for Providence passengers as a last call, so Kent went to the desk and we were okayed to board the plane. We had to go down a ramp and board a bus to the plane. There was a fleet of propeller planes out where it was cold with evidence of snow. Boarded a tiny plane, which was not even half full. We were seated in the exit row, so had to move back a row as children are not allowed to sit there. The public address system did not work, but the one stewardess could manage in this small plane. The taped safety instructions worked fine. Brynne fell asleep as we taxied and never realized we had taken off. Once in the air, it was a half hour flight while seeing lights below.  We landed and arrived at the terminal where I woke up Brynne. She thought we were still on the ground in New York! She was happy to know we were almost home, even though she was groggy. We marched right out to baggage claim to call Thrifty and went outside to wait for the shuttle. It was about 30 degrees outside, which now felt cold to us! There was a bit more snow, but no evidence of the storm that ended up closing the schools for two days before the holiday break, so that Brynne really only  missed half of one day of school. She actually worked more on her journal than her classmates. The shuttle took us to the waiting car, Kent went to pay, and then we were on our way home, arriving about 18:30 (23:30 London time and 1:30 the next day Israel time). If we had waited for our scheduled flight from JFK at 19:35, we would not have arrived home until 21:00 local time (2:00 the next day London time and 4:00 the next day Israel time!), meaning we would have been on the go for 24 hours. We made Brynne soup, unpacked and were in bed by 21:00.
P.S. About a week later, we received a large envelope from the Seven Arches Hotel in Jerusalem. Someone had found my little guide book, and mailed it to us!

Sunday, December 24, 1995

1995 Israel: Jericho (12/24/1995)

Sunday, December 24, 1995 (continued)
We retraced our route, then took the road to Jericho. Passed a checkpoint and showed our passports, although they were not taken to be perused. We were now entering a Palestinian-governed area. Jericho is an oasis town that Marc Antony once gave to Cleopatra. Antony’s vassal, King Herod, had to lease the land back from Cleopatra. Jericho is green, with groves of tall date palms, banana plantations, orange groves, bougainvillea, papaya trees, etc.
Date palm plantation
But neglect and dilapidation is apparent in the now mostly Muslim area. We headed to Tel Jericho, looking for Elisha’s Spring. Saw a hand-painted sign at what looked like a dirt driveway to someone’s shack, with an old man sitting out front. We did not want to deal with another guard with 30 years of experience, so continued past. So we may have missed what is supposedly a generous spring capped by a pump house. The spring is called Ain Es-Sultan/Sultan’s Spring, or Elisha’s Spring to recognize the Old Testament prophet and his miracle of sweetening the water with a bowl of salt. We drove to a large parking lot, and at one corner, Kent, Brynne and I paid 20 NIS to enter Tel Jericho. A tel is an archaeological mound, and this one was an excavation of the ancient city of Jericho. There were no remains of the walls of the first Canaanite objective of Joshua’s army when the Israelites marched around the city once a day for six days. On the seventh day they marched around seven times, blew on the ram horns, and shouted so that the walls came tumbling down and they were able to take the city. But we saw the remains of the world’s oldest walled city with a stone tower of 28 feet in diameter and 25 feet high attached to a 7.5-foot thick wall.

It predates the invention of pottery. Human bones dated to the Neolithic period (Late Stone Age, 6500-7800 BC). It is not known why they would have needed a wall. There was also a moat and retaining wall from about the year 2000 BC.
Wall from 2000 BC
View towards the city of Jericho
An observation point allowed us to look toward Elisha’s Spring, toward the City of Palms/Jericho, and toward the mountains in the west, one traditionally being the Mount of Temptation where Satan tempted Jesus with dominion over all the kingdoms of the world. Halfway down the mountainside was the Greek Orthodox Monastery, built into the cliffs on Byzantine remains. We could not really see the caves where hermits once lived, since it was dusk. The mountain and monastery are known locally as Qurantal, a corruption of the word quarantena (period of 40 days), which was the period of the temptation of Jesus.
Across the parking lot, Tom and Dot led us to the Temptation Restaurant for dinner, the one for which we had to save space. Tom and Dot were known by the owner, both for working with the American Consulate and for bringing all their guests here. The owner had his son take us up to a table on a balcony overlooking the wall mosaic and fountain of the restaurant.
Inside Temptation Restaurant
Several waiters served us, including the Ls’ usual waiter who arrived later. We did not order, rather they simply began bringing us dishes! Pitchers of fresh orange juice and lemonade, and a tall bottle of water. Brynne drank a lot of lemonade, but did not eat. She fell asleep lying across my lap. Next was pita bread (saucer-size) and toasted pita bread, which came with meze/small appetizers, an array of Middle Eastern salads including hummus, a hummus with something green blended in it, chopped cucumber in yoghurt, tabbouleh, marinated eggplant, spicy marinated green olives, and hot peppers. We also received two orders of the seven-saucer salads, and did a good job on them. This was followed by kibbeh, described as chopped meat in a pointy zeppelin-shape coated in cracked wheat and fried. Good and crispy; Kent and I each had one and split Brynne’s. There was a platter of juicy and flavorful chicken wings, and a platter of lamb chops and lamb sausages. So much food, but we kept eating! The head waiter noticed Brynne was not eating and was sleepy. He kept patting her head and cheeks. He leaned over the balcony railing to call to another employee below, who tossed up a large chocolate candy bar, which the waiter then gave to Brynne!
Kent and Tamiko at the Temptation Restaurant
Dot and Tom at the Temptation Restaurant
Below on the steps in front of the fountain, they were videotaping a young woman in a Western-style bridal gown. Another woman managed the train, but we did not see anyone else except employees standing around. So we figured they were filming for an advertisement rather than for a true wedding.
When we were more than full, they brought out the desserts. There were two sorts of honey-rolled baklava-type pastries, one with a creamy layer and both stuffed with pistachio nuts (bourma pastries). Kent and Tom had Turkish coffee with a quarter inch of silt at the bottom of the handle-less cups. A waiter came with a bill that was just 200 written on a slip of paper. We managed to give the waiter a 200 NIS bill, so that the Ls did not have to pay, although they left a 50 NIS tip. Even with a generous tip, it came to only about $20 per adult!
We went downstairs to explore the gift shop and decided to get some souvenirs, since we did not know when we would have the chance again. A shopkeeper kept close to us, rearranging nearby displays. We went up and down the aisles and eventually lost this guy. Another man brought me a basket since I was juggling a few items, and suddenly there were several employees waiting on us. One told us the boss said we could get a 30% discount on anything, because we were friends! Oh, boy! We did pick out a couple more things than we would have. We asked Tom and Dot if they wanted anything, and they only wanted a tiny paper Palestinian flag. I reached to get one, and an employee got another and gave it to me. Kent went to look for a larger Palestinian flag, but what they had was too big. They added up our purchases of four mud packs, one mud soap, a souvenir package of vials of olive oil, water and earth from the Holy Land, and five pins of flags and the Jerusalem cross. The total was $51, discounted to about $35, but all I had were shekels. The man said ‘110,’ then to just to give him 100. I had figured it was about 112 NIS and tried to give him 110, but he would not take it. He also had not charged for the little flags, never mind that big chocolate bar for Brynne! We were told to wait a moment, and he reached under the table to get a couple handfuls of samples of Dead Sea mud, moisturizers, gels, etc. We felt showered by generosity! We were accompanied out the door by the group of employees, and we thanked them profusely.
Outside at the fruit market, I asked about the fruit that is supposed to be in season now, the pomelo (a large citrus fruit related to the grapefruit). Dot had mentioned they were expensive, but I was willing to get one. The employee here picked one up and presented it to Dot, his “love.” We tried to pay for it, but were told it was a gift. The head waiter came out to give Brynne a package of raisins. Now thoroughly laden, we finally left saying goodbye to the owner, some of his sons, and many employees! Dot was enthusiastic in her congratulations to them in Palestine. Back in the car, we drove back to Jerusalem without incident. We could see some of the Bedouin tents were lighted from within, thanks to a generator. But many more remained dark.
When we arrived at the Ls, Tom and Brynne were anxious to open gifts. We figured we would not be around Christmas morning to exchange gifts, so we went ahead and did it now.
Brynne and Tom
Brynne and Dot
Brynne with the
Druze-embroidered purse
We had brought a couple small things, homemade cookies for Tom and a calendar for Dot’s pocket organizer. They gave Brynne a book, rare to find a Jewish one in English, about God who is everywhere, and a cloth purse with embroidery that is typical of the Druze, an Arabic-speaking people with a secret religion who had broken away from Islam 1,000 years ago and are loyal to Israel. The Ls gave Kent a small ceramic plaque with a beautiful village scene, made by Palestinians. I was given a holiday cookbook, and a wooden ornament from Bethlehem, likely made with olive wood. We tried to go to bed early because of the early start tomorrow for the Egged tour.
"Brynne's room" at Tom's and Dot's
After Brynne was in bed, Santa left a small gift for her under the tree, even though she understood that Santa would be leaving gifts under our tree at home in Rumford.
Next: Nazareth and Sea of Galilee.

1995 Israel: Ein Gedi (12/24/1995)

Sunday, December 24, 1995 (continued)
Our next stop was Ein Gedi. We skipped the spa as we were not interested in mud baths or warm sulfur pools! We went to a rocky public beach with free access to the Dead Sea. There were showers on the beach, but we opted to pay the 5 NIS to use the changing facilities and showers. First we used the restroom, then changed into bathing suits and sandals. It is suggested not to walk barefoot to avoid getting cut by the rocks, then stepping into salt water! Brynne did not want to go in the water, but she walked between Kent and me towards the water.
Ein Gedi Public Beach
Ein Gedi Public Beach
Kent, Brynne, and Tamiko enter the Dead Sea
Brynne decides not to enter the Dead Sea
She then began to complain of pebbles in her sandals and refused to go in the water. So with Brynne crying at the water’s edge, Kent and I walked into the Dead Sea, and floated. But you float in a v-shape with your bottom in the water, and head and feet buoyed up above the water. Gentle waves bobbed us southward. If you flipped onto your stomach, your body still wanted to be v-shaped, with your stomach in the water and head and feet out. I could sort of swim! I did get some water splashed on my lower lip, and it was very bitter. We soon got out and went to shower (nice warm showers), dry off and change clothes. Temperature-wise, we had been comfortable in bathing suits, but the water was initially cold; however, once in the water you quickly got used to it. It took a while to find our way out of the new parking lot, which was being paved.
Since we had not spent much time at the beach, we decided to go to the nature preserve that is almost across the street; the Nahal David portion. Took the road past the youth hostel and field school of the SPNI (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). We had joined SPNI and had a temporary membership card. We parked and waited at the ticket counter while a family sorted out something. The membership card got a discount only for me and Kent. The Ls got in as senior citizens, and then Brynne, for a total of 37.50 NIS.
Ein Gedi is mentioned often in the Old Testament and is best known as the place where 3,000 years ago David hid from the wrath of King Saul. The location of hot climate and plentiful water from four springs in a desert environment created a unique oasis. From 1600-foot cliffs to seashore, a variety of habitats allow plants from four phytogeographical areas grow side by side (tropical, desert, Mediterranean, and steppian). The secret of Ein Gedi was the balsam whose fruit is used to produce a perfume valuable for trade. We did not identify flora as we followed the path along the pretty dry streambed. The guidebook promised the walk to the waterfall would be only 15 minutes, so Tom and Dot came along. Almost immediately we saw three or four hyrax back against a fence, large furry rodent-like animals, the size of a small groundhog. Soon we arrived at the waterfall, the Shulamit falls, a thin stream falling over a rock ledge.
Shalumit Falls (PBB)
Kent, Brynne, and Tamiko
at the top of Shalumit Falls
The path brought us to a bridge over the top of the falls. People were wading in the very shallow water below. Above us was a gorge and in the cliffs were caves; look another skull!
"Place of the Skull"
We had seen the waterfall, so started back. Kent, Brynne and I took a detour to find a half dozen hyrax climbing along tree branches, and scurrying in the tall grass.
Procavia capensis/Rock Hyrax silhouette
When we got back to the entrance, a crowd had gathered to watch an ibex on the rocks across the wadi.
Ibex stalked by a photographer
Capra nubiana/Nubian Ibex
It was a male with the characteristic large curved horns. Apparently it was a female we had seen earlier on the way to Masada, as she was smaller, with smaller and thinner horns. We were so glad to have seen some native wildlife! I bought postcards, receiving a discount for them. We returned to the car and drove northward. Saw another ibex on a rock ledge above the road.
Next: Jericho.