Day 11 – Armageddon out of here!

And so to our last full day in Israel. We packed up and were on the road by just after ten, heading for Meggido, a tel about an hour’s drive from Galilee. The sun was shining but there was a nip in the air.

We passed Mount Tabor, resembling a large breast, the nipple being the church on the top – unfortunate, but there it is! Then we saw the sign to Maggido and pulled in to a pleasant car park with views over the Jezreel Valley. We paid our 28 shekels (the standard price for any National Park) and watched a short film explaining the site. There are 25 different layers of settlement in this tel, so sorting one out from another is a major job.

The tel controls the outlet of the Iron Valley to the Jezreel Valley and the Via Maris an international trade route linking Egypt with Mesopotamia, running up through Galilee and into the Bekaa Valley. It was one of the most important cities in the region throughout biblical times, having springs for water and fertile land around it. As a result it became the scene for some major battles and in Revelations Ha Megiddo or Armageddon is where the great battle between good and evil will be fought.

The settlement began in Neolithic times and flourished in the early Canaanite period (the Bronze Age). It became a powerful Canaanite city state during the third and second millenia BCE. It then became an Egyptian protectorate under Akhenaton. During the Israelite period it is mentioned in the books of Joshua and Judges. King Solomon rebuilt it after it was destroyed. Finally it was captured by the Assyrians and there is evidence of palaces and houses from that time (732BCE). Finally it was abandoned in the 3rd century BCE.

However if has been partly dug in the last two centuries and remarkable finds uncovered. Today it is a superb site, brilliantly laid out with a clear trail and useful info. boards, as well as a sheet with a map. At times it is a little difficult to work out what is what, but some of the structures are clear including two sets of stables which particularly interested Christine!

There is also an impressive gateway and a beautifully constructed granary with stairs built around it leading up and down. There is also an underground tunnel which brought water in to the site from a spring outside.

The views across the valleys are stunning. We wandered around for well over an hour, enjoying every minute. A great last visit of the holiday.

We continued on to Tel Aviv, but the location of the hotel was far from obvious. At one point we ended up in an airport service area, where a charming guard tried to help us. In the end we drove to the Hertz pick up point and decided to take taxi with all our bags etc. back to the hotel. A number of drivers were touting for business, but I had noted that there is a taxi control person who gives out the jobs in order and gives you the taxi number etc. We went to her and she showed us to a cab. She assured us it was only 4 Kms. The driver seemed slightly psychopathic and shouted at Dani as she tried to tell him where we wanted to go. It became clear he was taking us all around the houses. When eventually he got us to the hotel he asked us for 167 shekels ( about £4). I got very angry and said I would report him for over-charging, flashing the piece of paper with his number on it I had been given by his controller. Suddenly the price dropped to 100 shekels. We decided to pay that. He wanted my piece of paper, but I kept hold of it. I probably won’t report him, but he can sweat on that for a couple of days! The charming receptionist at the hotel said that 167 shekels was not so unreasonable! Luckily the hotel provides a complementary shuttle to the airport tomorrow morning. We have to leave at 6.00p.m.!

The hotel is clean, pleasant and soulless but will do us for the next 12 hours. I have found my vest, fleece and thick jumper for tomorrow’s return to the U.K.! Sounds like we are in for a bit of a shock weather wise! What a wonderful 12 days it has been, though! We have seen some amazing sites, have a much better impression of the Holy Land, and met some delightful people.



Day 10 Tiberias and around

We told Dani and Mike how much we enjoyed Magdala, so they decided to go. As we were planning to walk in the Arbel National Park, it was easy fir yes to drop them off. We had heard about the park on Trip Advisor and the views from the top over Galilee sounded superb. The park seemed well signposted from Magdala and so we turned up the 807 only to get snarled up in some roadworks. In the middle of these was our turning to the park. No problem, we got through and headed up a hillside. No sign if the park. Then we hit a speed bump at some speed (about 30 but it felt much more!). There was no warning and the bumps were cleverly blended into the road, so very hard to see. We crawled up the road and into a housing estate. We are getting used to thus! No sign of the park, so we turned around and came back down over the bumps. The area looked rather run down with a lot of litter and what appeared to be shanty housing on one side of the road. A small car park lay to our right and a green gate which looked like. Belonged to a National Park. We parked the car doing our best to avoid the broken beer bottles littering the area. Still no signs, entry gate, etc.


We walked through the gate, and along beside a small stream and eventually came on some large green notice boards which announced that this was indeed the Arbel N.P.. The path led up the side of the valley at a steep angle. A superb V shaped valley opened up below us and Christine did herself proud by instantly recognising some interlocking spurs! All these years of field trips (holidays) have not been wasted!


The path was well made with steps in places and we zigzagged up the side of the mountain towards the sheer cliffs above us. As we got closer it became clear that there were cave dwellings in the cliff side and a sign eventually pointed to a fortress. We continued around the side of the cliff towards the Sea of Galilee. We could see a party of children on the other path. Around a bend we met a couple and then a few more scrambling down a limestone escarpment. This was our route to the top! While I could probably have scrambled up, Christine decided that it was too much, understandably, not having my long legs, so we turned round and set off back down.

However the views were stunning. We could see Magdala an Capernaum below us. Beautiful cyclamen were growing in the risks all around us.

We met a couple who spoke good English and seemed to have a N.P. map and guide. On further investigation we discovered that the proper park entrance was off a different road at the top of the mountain, and not where we had come in! We had taken the back passage into Arbel. The good news was we had saved 56 shekels, but the bad news was we had probably missed out on some better views down the whole length of the lake.

Oh well, it had still been a great walk  and so we happily descended to our car. We both felt in need of a coffee and as we had had a great cup at Magdala yesterday we called in again today. Dani and Mike were still there so we joined them. Unfortunately the Irish woman with verbal diarrhoea had latched on to them, so once we had finished our drinks we offered them an ‘out’ by suggesting a lift into Tiberias. However they were, by now, heavily into the pantheon of Catholic saints, so Dani declined and said they would make their own way home.

Tiberias is a bit like Blackpool with sunshine. However at thus time of year it is comparatively quiet, but still sunny if cool. We decided to visit the old part of the town, but were frankly disappointed as we negotiated rubbish tips and smelly passages that led nowhere. We eventually got onto the prom. which was pleasant enough. It being Friday there were a great deal of Hassidic Jewish families out and about. We had been slightly overrun by them in the morning as they crossed the main road into Tiberias in waves. One of them even stood in the road and said Kaddish in front of the cemetery, the traffic having to dodge around him.

Some had now descended to the beach and to our surprise and amusement were now skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee. Frankly many of them should not have been allowed out their clothes even in their own bedrooms, never mind on a public beach in the middle of a town dedicated to pleasure. Still, we were not the only ones taking pictures (out of disbelief, I should say, not for any salacious reason I can assure you!).

Christine had expressed a desire to go on the Sea of Galilee and as walking was not an option, we managed to find a place that hired out boats for 100 shekels for half an hour. The boat steered like an oil tanker and the motor sounded as though it was suffering from tuberculosis but somehow we managed to chug up and down the Tiberian coastline and enjoy a view of the shore – naked, overweight Jewish men not withstanding.

Safely back in dry land we headed for the town centre but stumbled on a vast marquee to which large numbers of Ultra-Orthodox Jews were hurrying. We have no idea why. Perhaps some charismatic rabbi was in town? Perhaps this happens every sabbath in Tiberias. I suspect we’ll never know.

Once we made it to the town centre we discovered all the shops were shut – the Sabbath, of course! We did find a snack bar open so I ordered falafel in a pitta bread. For a mere 15 shekels it was money well spent as it was delicious!

We got home quite early so Christine suggested the walk down to Yardinet that we had been given the map for  when we arrived. It was….interesting, taking us through farmyards, past industrial estates and into a kibbutz. We reached Yardinet and were disappointed that no pilgrims were being baptised. However it is a beautiful part of the Jordan and we watched the catfish and relaxed on the bank. As the sun set, we headed back trying to compete the circuit. This led us along a main road and through a cemetery – presumably for the victims who had tried to walk along said road. We did get a couple of good views of the lake, bu we’re glad when we could head off across a field and into a housing estate on the way home.


I could write a book on Israeli housing estates…….and their lack of road signs.

Back to Tel Aviv tomorrow via Armeggedon. Should be interesting!

Day 9 Magdala and Metula

The plan today was to head north to Metula, the settlement closest to the Lebanese border in the region, and to see if we could look back to where we had been two months before in Lebanon.

We drove north through Tiberias, managing, as always to get completely lost. You drive into the centre of the town and all the road signs cease. No numbers, no indication of where to go. We ended up on a housing estate on a hillside above the road we wanted. Nice view though!

Eventually we found the main road 90 again and continued along the lake shore. I needed petrol so we pulled in to a filling station and spotted a sign to Magdala. Again thus was not straight forward and we visited a building site, before eventually finding the archaeological site nearby. It was comparatively cheap – a mere 15 shekels and I got a 5 shekel discount for being an old fart- hurrah!

I have written a monologue spoken by Mary Magdalene in which she repudiates any association with the town. However I may have to change that having visited the place. If clearly was quite a thriving port and centre of the fishing industry. They have uncovered a 1st century synagogue in which it is quite likely Jesus may have preached. It is beautiful in its simplicity with mosaics on the floor and painted plaster walls.

The rest of the discoveries are of shops and some quite sizeable houses along with some purification baths with seven steps leading down into them. Josephus records some 30,000 to 40,000 living there, but he always exaggerated. Archaeologists believe 3,000 to 4,000 is nearer the mark, but that still was a sizeable population in those days. Its core occupation was fishing and the preserving if fish, some of which may have been sent to Rome. It was on one of the great trading routes up the Rift Valley and of course the regional capital, Tiberias was only 6 or so miles away.

We found the place entrancing. A guide had approached us earlier, but we had declined her services, preferring to view the site on our own. However she came up to us later and gave us some more background which was interesting. She was Irish and voluble, her words spilling out of her in a torrent of brogue. The whole dig is privately funded with much of the money coming from wealthy Catholics.

There must be quite a bit if money as they have built a beautiful ‘church’ / religious centre near by. Inside the building there is a beautiful atrium with pillars celebrating    Christian women. Four side chapels lead off it, each with an interesting mosaic depicting a scene from the gospels. Glas doors separate it from the main church which us stunning. The altar is a wooden boat set in a green marble floor. Beyond is a window looking over an infinity pool and the Sea of Galilee beyond. If us breath-taking, yet simple.

We met the priest in charge there, a delightful man who wants to see this as an ecumenical centre, not just a Catholic one. He also hoped that it would be a centre where Jews and Christians could meet and exchange ideas. Down in the basement us another chapel, dominated by a wonderful reredos of  feet in sandals. It is called ‘The Encounter’ and shows a hand reaching between the feet to touch the hem of Jesus’s robe. I loved it.


From Magdala, we drove north to Metula on the Lebanese border. Once there we got a bit lost again and ended up in a housing estate with stunning views over Lebanon. There , on the horizon was Beaufort, the crusader castle where we had been standing a couple of months ago! Mission accomplished!

On the other side of the valley was the snow capped peak of Mt. Hermon. The views were wonderful and we went up to Dado’s lookout where there was an audio commentary in English, giving the Israeli side if the war with Lebanon.Very interesting!

Then we visited a local National Park with a spectacular waterfall before heading home.

As we drove back down into the Galilee valley the hills to the east were lit up by the setting sun!



Day 8 – Nazareth and Zippori


Rain today and definitely cooler. We aimed for Nazareth on the basis we would probably be in doors for much of the time. Quite a good choice as it turned out.

On the advice of the receptionist at the Jerusalem Hotel we had downloaded a free satnav for my mobile phone. We call her Rachel, and she has proved to be one of the most unreliable navigators in the history of mankind. She may of course be wreaking revenge for the British Mandate and all that then ensued, or she may just be very incompetent, but either way we shall not be using her in future.

We set off for Nazareth, and proceeded by a somewhat devious route, but got there eventually by reading road signs and ignoring Rachel. We headed into the old city and amazingly found a small car park just below the Church of the Annunciation. For a mere 20 shekels we could stay all day!


We walked up the street and circumnavigated the building, eventually asking a very pleasant local how to gain access. The church is massive and very modern (1969). It is built on the foundations of a Byzantine church which apparently lies on the house where Mary got the call from Gabriel. We started by wandering around the outside looking at various representations of the virgin and child from around the world. It was fascinating to see the cultural differences.n

Then we went inside St Joseph’s church which is quite simple and rather attractive. Underneath it are some more remains, although it was unclear what they were – possibly his carpenter’s shop?

We had a little difficulty finding our way into the main church, but when we did, it was well worth it. It is very impressive, with a large dome and concrete pillars. More representations of Mary and Jesus from around the world are on the walls.

Down in the crypt is the Grotto of the Annunciation and we duly filed past it, while others had their pictures taken in front of it or prayed. The latter seeming to be the more appropriate activity to me.

From the church we walked up into the souk, much of it closed as it was out of season. Nevertheless it was charming and we plodded up through it to the White Mosque, one of the oldest religious buildings in the town, dating from the 1700s. We were made very welcome and admired it’s fine prayer hall.

Across from it was a small cafe where we enjoyed some Arabic coffees and I enjoyed an interesting baklava, not unreminiscent of an apple turnover to look at. Wandering further, Christine found a very nice scarf in a small shop. It claims to be real cashmere and cost only 20 shekels. Those two facts do not seem to tally, but it is a nice scarf so who cares!

We eventually found our way back to the car, after a few hesitations and asked Rachel to find a route to Zippari, a hilltop town from the Roman times. She got us completely lost, but when we reset her led us triumphantly to the place!

It was still raining on and off, was quite cool (jumpers and fleeces needed) and very windy. We parked and walked around the site. The mosaics are amazing and clearly there is still much more to be found. On the very top of the hill are the remains of a villa with a central dining/living room with an beautiful mosaic showing the life of Dionysus. The views from the top were stunning, particularly as the clouds parted and sent shafts of light over the hills. Unfortunately we only had about an hour and a bit to look around before the site closed.

We set Rachel the task of getting us home. She began well, but then sent us down a side street into a residential area, through a factory site and finally onto a gravel track on the side of a mountain. We switched her off and retraced our steps. Using the signs we found our way to Tiberius and thus home. Rachel has been fired.


Tonight we are going to try a different restaurant down in the village. Tomorrow, who knows! Perhaps a journey to the Lebanese border – just the two of us, Rachel will not be coming . Two’s company……….!

Day 7 Around the Sea of Galilee

We left at around 10.00 a.m. and drove east around the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee towards En Gev. We stopped at a small picnic place with access to the lake shore. It was beautiful. Two fishing boats were out on the lake, flocks of birds took off and landed, the reeds swayed in the light breeze and the water lapped the shoreline. It did seem almost biblical. We paddled and picked up shells.

Then we continued north towards Bethsaida, stopping next at the National Park which had a walking and water trail through the reeds and trees. We opted for the walking route as the water trail involved swimming in places. The peace and quiet was heavenly and we saw a variety of birds, butterflies and dragonflies, as well as a range of flora, including mimosa and eucalyptus.

A short distance on from there and we had rounded the head of the lake and crossed several tributaries which feed in from the north. Now we entered the River Jirdan Nationsl Park and the ruins of the old town of Bethsaida. This is one of the largest tels in Israel and is mentioned in the O.T. as Zer in the territory of Geshur. Bethsaida means ‘the house of the fisherman’. According to the N.T. Jesus performed some of his miracles here including the feeding of the multitude and the healing of the blind man. From the Bethsaida shore he was seen walking on the water. Peter, Andrew and Phillip were all from Bethsaida. Ultimately Jesus condemned the city, ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!


The site is fascinating and as we walked up the road, leading to the massive gateway into the city, you couldn’t help but wonder if Christ had walked here 2,000 years ago. The site was deserted and very atmospheric. The gateway is impressive as are the fisherman’s house and the winemaker’s house.

The only thing to give one pause was the large sign that hung on the fence warning of land mines. This place was held by Syrian troops in the 1967 conflict and there is still evidence of trenches, tunnels and bomb shells.

Still the birds and the butterflies fluttered around, putting on a colourful display for us.

A short drive down a paved track brought us to The River Jordan Park, clearly a very popular destination in the season, but now deserted. Picnic tables, camp sites, children’s play grounds, signs for kayaks all testified to a fun place in the summer. Now it was quiet. We decided to try to walk down to the Jordan, so parked under some trees. On the path ahead of us 3 mammals with long tails vanished into the reeds. We approached quietly and rounding a bend were rewarded with a wonderful view of mongooses (we had to check this out with the warden as we left).

We walked down through tunnels of reeds and eventually found the River Jordan sparkling in the afternoon sunshine.

Back in the car we headed for Capernaum which had been our goal all day. We stopped first at the Capernaum Nationsl Park, which seemed remarkably deserted. This gave us stunning views over the lake and an encounter with a large herd(?) of rock hydrates which really are the most delightful creatures.

imageOn the waterfront there were herons and egrets. Cloud was building and the sun was shining through in rays. One half expected a large hand or finger to break through!


We walked to a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church where a group of Romanians had arrived to look around. We managed to sneak in ahead of them and then sit by the lake for a while. We wanted to find Simon- Peter’s house which is said to be here. Someone pointed us to a space ship like building a couple of fields away. No chance of walking to it thanks to high fences, so we drove. There must have been 20 coaches in the car park.

We parked and paid our 5 shekel entrance fee each and walked up into the space ship which hovers over the supposed house. It is run by the Franciscans who seem to have ruined what should be a charming set of foundations incorporated not a Byzantine church, also now ruined. The space ship is a circular church with a glass roof at its centre over Peter’s house. I suppose it is to stop people pinching bits of it, but it looks awful and removes any atmosphere. Better is the synagogue built on the foundations of the one that Jesus probably preached in, but again the sheer number of visitors does not help the atmosphere. But who am I to criticise, I am part of the problem!


Finally we drove up the Mount of the Beattitudes to a another church, quite simple inside and with stunning views over the Sea of Galilee. Night was falling fast so we decided to head back to Kinneret. When we stopped so that Chrsirine could take a picture of the hills a man with a French accent and halitosis asked for lift into Tiberius. We were happy to oblige, unaware at that point of his bad breath. Poor Mike sitting next to him suffered all the way down to the town!

Tomorrow rain is forecast so we shall make decisions about what we do once we know the weather situation. Nazareth beckons, but also repels, filled as it will be with pilgrims eager to look at ‘supposedly’ sites. Has to be done though, I suppose!


Day 6 – Looking over Jordan

…….and what did we see? Well Jordan of course, since it is the other side of the river! We rise late, had a very good, leisurely breakfast and then Christine and I set off south down the Jordan valley, while Dani and Mike opted to chill out in the local area.

Our first stop was a crusader castle – Belvoir, perched high above the Jordan Valley. It is spectacular! The valley is very fertile. A lot of the greenhouses are growing bananas. There are also large numbers of fish farms.

The views take your breath away, but the castle is also well preserved and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have done their usual superb job in terms of a clear leaflet and information boards around the site. In 1168 the Hospitaller Knights bought the site from a French noble family named Velos and built a fortress there and occupied it over the next 21 years. Eventually it was besieged by Saladin for a Year and a half before the Knights eventually surrended.

A very impressive ruin is left with an inner and outer fortress and a deep moat on three sides. What was nice from our point of view was that there was hardly any one there and so we could wander around in peace and quiet. Only towards the very end did three coaches arrive and disgorge a large number of Israeli visitors. We fled, having enjoyed our visit immensely.

Our journey up and down the mountain was interesting as they were doing a lot of work on the road and so large lorries thundered past us or came hurtling down behind us. Bulldozers and levellers meandered across the single track road and in places the road was vertiginous.

Back on the road south we came to Beth Shean or Bet She’an National Park, one of the most amazing Roman / Byzantine sites we have ever seen. It is situated below a tel which boasts some 20 settlement strata, starting in the 5th millennium B.C. and continuing with an Egyptian settlement in the late Canaanite period (16th -12th centuries BC). The city was taken by King David and then became an administrative centre of the region under Solomon. Under the Romans it became on the cities of the Decapolis and the most important city in northern Israel. Under Roman rule the city expanded and prospered with magnificent public buildings going up including a 7,000 seater amphitheatre. Under the Byzantines it became largely Christian and had a population of between 30,000 and 40,000. It all came to an end when an earthquake in 749 A.D. devastated the city. It became little more than a village and was forgotten Now it is being excavated and what they are finding is truly amazing.

Again we had the place almost to ourselves, which was wonderful. I stood on the stage of the amphitheatre and tested the acoustics, then wandered around one of the bath houses.

We walked down the colonnaded main street, then climbed the tel for a spectacular view of the Jordan valley and the whole archaeological site. As we arrived back at the main entrance a group of Japenese or Chinese arrived, but by then we were on our way! They had missed their chance of standing in front of what we were trying to photograph!

On our way home we made a small deviation into a kibbutz, looking for the site on the Joradan where Jesus may have been baptised. We eventually found it some distance away. We would have guessed where it was by the 10 – 20 coaches parked in the area. The prospect of 200 of more Americans singing ‘As I came down to the river to pray’ proved too much and we went the wrong way around the car park, narrowly missing a coach, turned into another kibbutz by mistake and drive through  the middle of it hoping to find a way out, which we eventually did.

Tonight we will go to the first ever kibbutz ( Dganya Alef) for a meal in their restaurant. No plans as yet for tomorrow, but I suppose we should hit the pilgrim trail again. Perhaps a trip around the Sea of Galilee before it rains on Wednesday?


Day 5 – heading north

A mixed day in many respects. We left the hotel at about 9.30 in a taxi bound for Tel Aviv airport to pick up our hire car. At the airport I did discovered I had left my phone and our guide book in the taxi. By sheer luck, I had taken the driver’s card and phone number, so was able to phone him and ask him to come back with it. Expensive, but a relief!

Then we set off for Caeserea. The car is a Toyota Aventis and very nice to drive, as well as comfortable inside. We reached Caeserea at about 1.30 and paid our entrance fee to the enormous archaeological park. Lunch was our first requirement and we mined our store of shekels for a couple of bagels. Then Christine and I walked through the remains of this fine Roman city, past large warehouses, bath houses, palaces and offices.

Along the seafront was a hippodrome and much of the tiered seating still exists. Christine could not resist playing Ben Hur on a sculpture of a chariot.

At the far end, to the south is an enormous amphitheatre which sat 4,000 people and which has been restored and is used today.


The Med. looked very inviting, but we resisted a dip. However we could not resist some excellent Italian ice cream, even though our shekels were rapidly decreasing. Israel was always an expensive country but thanks to Boris Johnson and his lying bunch of Brexitiers, it is even more so now. I hope all those who voted ‘yes’ will be happy to pay more for everything when they go abroad for their holidays. Oh, of course, they don’t like abroad do they, or anyone from it. They’ll be quite happy to stay in little England won’t they, building sea defences to repeal the next invasion.

Sorry, got carried away there for a moment. Caeserea also boasts a fine Roman aqueduct which looked beautiful in the rays of the setting sun.

Then we headed east to Galilee….or rather we didn’t. We wanted to get on the 65 road, but somehow missed it, heading further north before turning east. Night fell and road signs and the map became more difficult to read. We pressed on, passing through the centre of Nazareth…..not the loveliest of towns, and eventually into Tiberius. Once we had found the lake shore, it was a lot easier, but we still managed to miss Kinneret, the small village in which we are staying. The owner phoned us and gave us helpful directions and we arrived about 7.00 p.m.. I was utterly exhausted, so we visited the local shop and made our own meal in our rather pleasant cabin. Now, all I need is some kip to restore my equilibrium.


I think we might leave Nazareth for a day or so, but I suppose we will have to go there. There is plenty to see around Galilee.

Day 4 The Mount of Olives

It had to be done. Well I suppose it did. Can a Christian come to Jerusalem without viewing Christ’s supposed tomb? I think not. But neither it seems can most other religions, agnostics, atheists etc. which is why you have to get up early. 6.30 in our case and arriving at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre at about 7.30. Dani and Mike had gone to a 6.30 mass and it was pure luck that we joined the queue to get to the tomb directly behind them. The queue was not moving. We stood an chatted. Still no movement. At about 7.45 some thing seemed to be going on up ahead and sure enough the queue moved. Slowly we inched forward until at about 8.20 we got to view the marble slab on which he supposedly lay in the tomb. From there it is but a short walk and a short queue to view the supposed limestone mound which was Golgotha. Of course it didn’t have to be that high as being on a cross made you all to visible ‘pour encourage les autres’. There is a gilded hole above the stone which I assumed was to put your arm in to feel the stone. I was somewhat surprised to find it full of litter. Then it dawned on me that these were bank notes. How better to commemorate the death of our Saviour than in dollar bills or shekels?


We did not linger and headed back through empty streets to our hotel and breakfast. At the Damascus Gate Christine noticed a woman n a red coat and bobble hat standing absolutely still in front of it. Christine had noticed that she had been there at 7.15 when we had passed through. Very odd.

We met Dani and Mike for breakfast and then set off to the. Mount of Olives. We headed back to the Damascus Gate. I was now 10.00 but the girl was still in the same pplace. I asked her what she was doing and apparently it was some form of independent film project. Her cameraman was on the steps to her left.

We walked down the Via Dolorosa looking for Lion Gate and St Anne’s Church. I mistook one of s number of arches for the fate and then got us completely lost. Eventually we found St Anne ‘s and it was heaving! The church is Romanesque and beautiful in its simplicity. It has a remarkable acoustic and an American Choir was trying it out with Amazing Grace. If sound quite impressive, in spite of their pronounciation. Once they had left we had the church to ourselves so I gave a quick solo of ‘Lord we beseech you.’, and yes the acoustic is quite remarkable:even  my voice sounded passable!


It is hard to work out what is what outside the church so many generations gave built over and around the pools. Add to this the vast numbers of awed Americans and clamorous Chinese and the whole experience becomes hard to enjoy. However they do stay with their leaders, few wander from the throng, so we found a walkway around the other side of the site and enjoyed some relative peace. The pools, north and south, I was particularly keen to see having written about them in both of my religious monologues, Febronia and Mary, particularly the latter. I was not disappointed. With the help of a simple guide and some plaques we managed to piece together what would have been there in the time of Christ. I imagined Mary in one of the rather posh rooms situated between the pools, favouring the northern one where the water was cleaner and the common people did not enter.

Outside the Lion Gate we entered a Moslem cemetery which gave us good views across the Kidron Valley towards the massive Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. We crossed the Kidron or Valley of Jehoshaphat, dodging the multitude of tourist buses and taxis and eschewing the Basilica of the Agony, we found a quiet road up the edge of the Jewish cemetery to a viewpoint at the top of the Mount. The sun was beating down and it was quite a climb, but well worth it. As we passed the Jewish cemetery I pointed out the stones piled on many of the graves. “Why do they do that?” Christine asked. I reminded her that at our Family Remembrance Service only a couple of weeks ago I had based the service on this Jewish ritual and we had all laid stones around the font. It clearly had made quite an impact!


We treated ourselves to a cereal bar as we looked across to the walled city and then after using the impeccable toilets we headed further up to the Mosque of the Ascension. Within its grounds is a beautiful little chapel dating from about 1200. Inside is a piece of stone with a supposed footprint our Lord left behind as a left for heaven. If so, he had surprisingly large feet.


We descended via a much busier road and enjoyed an overpriced, but delicious pomegranate juice at a small cafe at the bottom. Back through the Lion Gate we navigated our way across the old city to the Jaffa Gate. The Via Dolorosa was blocked in places by thrombosises of tourists, clustered around their guides, drinking in every word and quite oblivious of everyone else. Eventually we struck off away from the crowds, but met them again as we approached the Jaffa Gate.


Our aim was to walk on the walls which run between Jaffa Gate and Dung Gate. It cost 18 shekels each, but I produced my senior railcard and got in for 8 as a senior citizen! The walk was lovely but hard work. Every tower had massive stone steps up and down and by now our legs were feeling like jelly. At Dung Gate we set off in pursuit of refreshment, but decided instead to buy some cakes and head back to the hotel for afternoon tea on our terrace. We bought some delicious cakes from a stall near the Damascus Gate and as we passed through there was the girl, standing in the same spot. Christine asked if she had had a break and was released to hear that she had. She was still being filmed, so I presume we are now part of an art installation to be screened in the future!


Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem for the Sea of Galilee and hopefully a less frenetic and cheaper few days.

Day 3a – Christian Jerusalem

We asked the driver to drop us off at the Jaffa Gate and, after a couple of reasonably cheap coffees and some extortionate biscuits, we went into the Citadel. As some small recompense of the devastating attacks on my wallet sustained so far I was given a 5 shekel reduction on the entry fee. This in spite of not really qualifying as you have to be 67 to be an OAP in Israel! The citadel was just what we needed. It was quiet, beautiful and had a very interesting display of Jerusalem’s history. Much of the Citadel’s structure dates from the Middle Ages, but it’s foundations are much older.

We climbed Phasael’s Tower and were presented with stunning views over the city. We walked along the ramparts and entered the various exhibition rooms which gave a superb history of the city. We wandered around the archaeological remains in the gardens at the centre of the structure. It was delightful and an hour and a half passed very quickly.


I had noticed some people on the city walls, so we made an attempt to join them, but unfortunately, like the Citadel, they closed early on a Friday in preparation for the sabbath. Instead we walked into the Armenian quarter and found St James’ Cathedral which is only open for half an hour each day. By luck we were there on time. It is magnificent. I have never seen so many censers in one room in my life! A small group were being shown around and were being harangued by one of the priests about the tiles. Apparently a guidebook had wrongly ascribed them to the Turks in the 12th century. Outrageous! They are clearly 18th century and Armenian! As he became distracted the group slipped away, but we were not quick enough. The harangue continued with documents brought out to prove his point. Desperately trying to dodge his halitosis I found myself cornered and forced to photograph, both the offending page in the guidebook and his letter to the publisher. Finally we were allowed back into the main church as the service was beginning. We melted into the shadows at the back and listened to the mist beautiful intoning of the Bible followed by exquisite monkly singing. A deep sense of peace descended….a little piece of spiritual healing…….a blessing perhaps.


Then it was down to the Dung Gate, the Zion Gate and back into the Christian quarter, looking for St Mark’s Church and the ‘upper room’. Unfortunately it was closed so we headed for the Muristan, which is a square with alleys radiating off of it , lined with shops. There is a fountain in the centre and some rather strange ‘statues’ of storks with fish in their bills.image No idea what that was all about. The Greek Orthodox Church of John the Baptist backs on to this but the entrance is hard to find. Eventually we circumnavigated it via the souk and found a narrow door between shops that led into a beautiful courtyard. From there we entered the church, one of the oldest churches in Jerusalem. It us being repainted, but is still very attractive with a massive iconostasis. The white walls are being painted with scenes from the bible in bright colours.


Back into through the Muristan, we visited the Lutheran Church , but decided against going in as it is quite modern and wanted to charge us quite a bit to enter. Instead the Russians got our money. The Alexande Hospice is Russian Orthodox and built over some impressive ruins. In the basement is the remains of a threshold of a city gate, believed to date from the time of Herod the Great. It is likely that this was the Judgement Gate through which criminals passed on the way to Calvary to be crucified. Could Jesus gave passed over this stone? Alongside it is a piece of wall through which is an opening just big enough to allow a person to pass through. When the gates were shut at night, late comers could pass through this, but horses and camels couldn’t. It is shaped like the eye of a needle! This makes so much sense as an explanation of Jesus’s comment about it being harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to  pass through an eye of a needle!


We returned to saunter down the souk, marvelling at the brightly coloured sweets and the hunks of meat hanging in the butchers.


We arrived at the Damascus Gate as it was tinged with pink by the setting sun and looked quite beautiful. Jerusalem is quite some city. The old part is fascinating, quaint, and interesting. The modern part is busy, clean and has excellent public transport. I love it!






Day 3 – a morning in Bethlehem



Another early rise, but not quite so early, thank goodness. Mini-bus to Bethlehem and our first close-up sight of the wall. Horrible. We also passed  Baksy’s ‘Walledoff Hotel’ and managed to convince the driver to stop there briefly on the way back.


Our guide, Ashraf, a Palestinian Christian, met us inside the wall and took us to Star Street, the old road into Bethlehem from the north. It follows the old cliff line and was likely to be the route Mary and Joseph took into the village. It had been lined with souvenir shops, but the conflict has meant that many Palestinian Christians have left the town and mosr of these shops have closed. We walked into Manger Square where preparations were underway for the advent celebration tomorrow.


Then into the Church of the Nativity, a heavily ornate Greek Orthodox Church with an imposing iconostasis. We queued behind an excited group of children to go down to the nativity site under the main altar. It is quite a small room but we managed to touch the stone where Mary supposedly gave birth and to see the place where the manger ma have been. I hoped I might have felt something, but I’m afraid not. Perhaps I am too much of a cynic? Anyway the church was impressive although much of it was swathed in plastic as it was being restored. There were some beautiful mosaics from the 4th century and a charming courtyard and cloister.

From there we were led like sheep to a Palestinian Christian souvenir shop. Everything was made locally we were told, but they were expensive and even with a discount we felt ripped off. We walked in to the Milk Grotto where apparently Mary and Joseph stopped on their way to Egypt and Mary fed the infant Jesus. Spilling a drop of milk turned the cave white. Hmmmmm. What was touching was to watch a young child move behind our group to the picture of Mary feeding her infant, kneel before it, touch it and pray. Such faith, puts mine to shame. I’m afraid the sight of ‘baby Jesus’ surrounded by dollar bills seemed to me a more eloquent testimony of what modern day Bethlehem is all about.

We walked down a hill which afforded fine views over the east of the city and a nearby town built on the shepherd’s field in recent years. Room in Bethlehem is still at a premium it seems!


The mini-bus took us back to Jerusalem, but we had to wait for over 20 minutes to get out of the Palestinian sector, an indication of what Palestinians have to go through every day if they work outside the wall.

To sum up, for us, Bethlehem was a disappointing experience, but for Dani and Mike it was everything they hoped for which was wonderful. The afternoon proved much more interesting for us in the end………..