Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 – Ashdod, Israel – 82F - Sunny

Distance Traveled from Alexandria: 260 Nautical Miles

A beautiful day in Israel.  Early wake up call gets us going for today’s tour:  “Glorious Jerusalem”.  This tour is billed as one that will visit as many sites in Jerusalem as possible.

Our guide, Hughey, is 0rthodox, bearded, wears a kipah, and comes originally from Brooklyn – he has been in Israel for 40 years.  He is very academic and speaks very well.  He does not talk so much about Israel’s Wars but concentrates on Israel’s goals and aspirations.  He does get into politics at times and, as we shall see later, walks way too fast for a guide.

Again, the bus ride is about 90 minutes. No rest stop today but Hughey hands out packs containing snacks and water.

1948 War Memorial Jerusalem Hwy (Small)

Road to Jerusalem – War Memorial (1948 War)

As the bus makes its way to Mt Zion near the Old City, a number of buildings and landmarks in the new city are pointed out by the guide.  One is the Jerusalem Harp Bridge (so named because David played the harp – I thought it looked like a harp).  The architect of this structure is Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the defunct Chicago Spire and the Opera House in Tenerife.

Jerusalem Harp Bridge - Same architect as spire (Small)

Jerusalem Harp Bridge

Our first stop was at historic Mt. Zion, the traditional location of King David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper.  Just before we arrived, Hughey pointed out the location of King David’s original city of Jerusalem.  It is a neighborhood now and there is some archeological work being done but it is not reflective of its past glory.

Orignal City of David - foreground (Small)

Original Site of David’s Jerusalem

According to tradition, David’s Tomb and the Last Supper are in the same building now a Byzantine Church.  The Tomb is on the ground floor and the Last Supper took place on the upper floor (Cenacle  [Dinner] of Jesus).

Building of Last Supper (Small)

Byzantine Church housing two biblical locations

King David's Tomb Mt Zion (Small)

King David's Tomb Mt Zion 1 (Small)

King David's Tomb (Small)

Tomb of King David of Israel

King David's Tomb Mezzuzah (Small)

Mezuzah on door of King David’s Tomb

The Room of the Last Supper is now a mosque, containing Arabic writings and an ornate mihrab (an alcove indicating the direction of Mecca)

Room of Last Supper (Small)

Last Supper Points to Mecca (Small)

Mihrab in the Room of the Last Supper

Statue of King David 2 (Small)

Statue of King David in courtyard

Masonic Lodge on Mt Zion (Small)

Masonic Lodge on Mt Zion

Our next stop – all walking – is the Zion Gate, which will take us into the Armenian and Jewish Quarters of the Old City.

XXX Gate (Small)

Zion Gate

The Zion Gate allows automobile traffic so it affords a unique opportunity to get run over in the Old City.  Immediately beyond the gate is the Armenian Quarter – many souvenir shops and coffee shops.

Armenian Quarter (Small) 

The Cardo, remains of the old Roman Street,  connects the Zion Gate with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We will be visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after lunch.  Our destination now is the Western Wall.

Mosaic Map Jewish Quarter (Small)

Mosaic Map of the Old City

Columns near Jewish Quarter (Small)

Cardo Jewish Q (Small) 

The Cardo in the Old City

Next stop was at King Hezekiah’s Wall.  The king had a dispute with the Prophet Isaiah over the building of a wall that would destroy some homes in Jerusalem.

Hezekiah's Wall (arg with Isaiah) 1 (Small)

Homes near Hezekiah's Wall (Small)

  Flagstone pointing location of Heze wall (Small)  

Top:  Location of Hezekiah’s Wall: Middle: Archeological Remains of homes near the wall; Bottom:  Flagstones mark the location of the wall

Near the Western Wall, there is a large menorah. From our vantage point near the menorah, we are able to see the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.  The Wall is also visible.

Menorah near Kotel (Small)

Al Aqsa Mosque (Small)

Al Aqsa Mosque

Dome of the Rock 2 (Small) 

The Western Wall and Dome of the Rock

We only had 10 minutes at the wall but I was able to find a spot next to the wall.

The Wall 3 (Small)

The Wall 1 (Small)

As we leave the wall and the Old City and wait for our bus to pick us up, we are told that the ruins near the street are from the First Temple Period.  This is documented by pictures taken by one of my passengers.

\ H and homes from 1st Temple Period (Small) H and Homes 1st Temple (Small) 

I am standing in an area dating from the First Temple

On our way to lunch we pass the Catholic Cemetery where Oskar Schindler is buried.

Mt. Zion Oskar Schindler Grave (Small)

Cemetery containing the grave of Oskar Schindler

Lunch today is one hotel away from where we ate last cruise.  This time we are the Leonardo Hotel, another fancy hotel near the Old City.  I am told that all of the food is kosher and I am hungry.

Leonardo Hotel for Lunch (Small)

Leonardo Hotel – Lunch Time

Lunch was buffet style and contained some good items – horseradish containing hamburgers (really good), Asian Chicken (also good); a host of middle eastern stuff (humus, etc including some green stuff too hot for humans to consume); potatoes, wine, coffee, and deserts.  I thought it was a fine meal but then again I really like hamburgers.  There was plenty of time to eat and although several busses had arrived, the lines moved quickly.  The wine was so good that our table finished out bottle and grabbed another bottle from a nearby table.  I ate a lot (kosher after all) but there was also a lot of walking and stair climbing on this tour and calorie burning.

By the way, we had lost two passengers earlier (they mistakenly went with another group). They rejoined us at lunch – the two tour guides had communicated via cell phone to work this out.

Our final stop of the day would be the Christian Quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  There would also be stops at the Stages of the Cross but I was too busy rounding up passengers to see much of the detail along the way.

Nearing the Jaffa Gate, we got a great view of the Citadel of David.

Citadel (tower of David) (Small)

King David’s Citadel and Tower

Jaffa Gate (Small)

Jaffa Gate

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is thought to be the site of Golgotha (Hill of Calvary), the spot where Jesus was crucified as well the location of burial and resurrection.  It is a major pilgrimage site for Christians.

Church of Holy Sepulchre (Small)  

Exterior Church of HP 1 (Small)

Exterior Church of HP (Small)

Exterior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The church was literally inundated with visitors (worse than the Cairo Museum) inside and outside.  We did make our way into the building.

We were able to get close to the Stone of the Unction, the stone upon which Christians believe Jesus was prepared for burial.

Stone of the Unction (Small)

Stone of Unction

Many of the passengers were physically unable to climb the stairs (five people across with no railings) to the site of Golgotha so I stayed with them until the rest of our group came down.  Other passengers were simply unhappy over the crowding – expected, I would think. I waited with my flock at the down staircase for the rest of the group but they did not show (later found out that they went up the down stairs).

After some anxiety, I was able to find Hughey and the rest of our people- they had made their way into the courtyard.  Soon, we were all on our way through the narrow passages of the Christian Quarter (and it was getting dark).

Market Place (Small)

Market Place 2 (Small)

Marketplaces along our route

Church of Birthplace of Virgin Mary (Small)

Church of the Birthplace of the Virgin Mary

Dark alley in Christian Quarter (Small)

Deserted Alley in the Christian Quarter (after dark)

Eventually, we exited the Christian Quarter via the Lion’s Gate and boarded our bus back to Ashdod.  A count of the passengers indicated that everyone was on board.  Considering the confusion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the wanderings of some of the passengers, this was another Jerusalem miracle.

Lion Gate - Exit from Christian Quarter (Small)

Lion’s Gate – Exit from the Christian Quarter

The bus stopped briefly so we could take a picture of the Temple Mount and the Old City at night.

Temple Mount at Night (Small)

The ride back to Ashdod was pleasant – Hughey spoke a bit about his own background and history as well as how the State of Israel is dealing with its geopolitical issues.  I found the whole discussion very interesting. 

Soon we were back at the Port, where I ran into Esperanza and we chatted about the tour and the goings on this evening.

No show tonight but Motown Mania is in the Grand Foyer.

We passed on the show and grabbed something to eat in the Buffet.

A very physically difficult day but an enlightening one as well.

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