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.
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.
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|
|Christmas decorations in Nazareth|
|Brynne and Kent with|
double man-sized poinsettias
|Basilica of the Annunciation|
|Basilica of the Annunciation façade|
|Basilica bronze door|
|Peek into grotto allegedly at the site|
of the home of Mary and the Annunciation
|Basilica of the Annunciation nativity scene|
|Church of St Joseph sculpture|
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
|Church of Franciscan Sisters on the Mount of Beatitudes|
|Colorful blooms in Capernaum|
|St Peter's Memorial|
There were remains of homes, with water jars and a threshing rock.
|House ruins with water jars|
|Blackened wall supposedly from the time of Jesus|
|Ancient board game|
Other remains to be seen were a mile/distance marker, and an olive press.
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|
|Lido 3 tour boat|
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)|
|Bus tour participants|
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|
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!