Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Our Last Day and Last Post

Amjad, our guide in Jordan
Mamdoh, our driver in Jordan

Amjad, our tour guide, and Mamdoh, our driver, were ready to greet us at 9:00 Tuesday morning. We left Amman, Jordan, well rested and ready for yet one more day of touring. The day included only two stops – Jerash and Ajlun.
Jerash is one of the ten cities built by the Romans that are known as the Decapolis. We had seen Beit She’an (or Beth Shean) earlier in our trip southeast of Nazareth, another of the ten. 

If Beit She’an is the best-preserved town in Israel, Jerash is considered one of the best preserved and most original of the Roman cities in the Middle East. This site contains all the elements anyone who has taken Latin 101 expects to see in a Roman city.
Jerash overview 

We enjoyed seeing a Hippodrome, where the horse races were held, a large Oval Plaza, a well-preserved Theater, a massive Cardo (Roman equivalent of a shopping mall, a Roman Forum, and a Temple to Aphrodite that has many similarities to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. These ruins sit squarely in the center of the modern Jerash city. What a history lesson they wake up to every morning.

Need a boost?
In this picture you see some boys enjoying the grounds and doing the things boys do, such as trying to hoist each other into the crevices on the stage at the theater. These two were part of a school field trip group. As we encountered thet boys several times on the grounds, hey were not shy to say hi to us, each one smiling and wanting to be noticed. A few said, “I love you,” which must be one of the English sentences they know how to say. 

Cool Roman columns

Some of Jerash was destroyed by an earthquake, but our guide showed us how some of the columns were able to withstand the quake through a system of holes and notches in the column that still today give it the flexibility to move. Mark got a great shot looking up at five of these columns in the temple area.

Colorful presentation and good to eat.
From here we went to lunch at a lovely restaurant, with flowers and a huge fountain just outside our window. They were set up for huge crowds, but we were the only guests while we were there. In Israel, Palestinian areas, and Jordan, the salads have been plentiful and beautiful. We took a picture of the ones were had at our last tour meal. You can see there were about six choices in this course. The main course that followed was a barbecue of sorts, with chicken, lamb, and kafta (kind of a ground beef and ground lamb meatball kebob). This became another great example of the lovely hospitality and attentive service we experienced in Jordan.
The last stop for us was Ajlun, a market town that is dominated by the fortress of Qalat ar-Rabad, built in 1184-1185 partly to ward off incursions of Crusaders in that region. 
Green part of Jordan
We enjoyed the views from the hill where it sits as much as the ruins themselves. This area of Jordan is green, in contrast to the southern part where Petra is, which is stark desert. There is much agriculture here, which result in fruit and vegetable exports for Jordan to other countries in the Middle East that are all desert.

Leaving Ajlun - last stop of the tour.
This picture shows us posed at this, our last stop. From here we once more made our way through the Jordan/Israeli border crossing, this time at the Sheik Hussein crossing, north of the Allenby Bridge crossing we used on Sunday as we entered Jordan. This time all of our bags and suitcases were thoroughly searched by the Israelis. The mile distance from when we entered the Jordan side of the crossing until we were through the Israeli side took us about an hour and 15 minutes to accomplish. A taxi was waiting for us, taking us the last 75 miles or so to the Ben Gurion Airport. We arrived about 6:00 p.m. for a flight leaving at 11:40 p.m. The 11 hour and 30 minute flight went surprisingly quickly, with each of us able to sleep about 5 hours or so of that time. 
Sunrise over Manhattan from Newark airport
The sun chased us all night and finally caught up with us in Newark, New Jersey, about two hours after we landed. In the background of this, our last picture, you can see New York’s skyline.
We will be here until about 6 p.m. tonight. It had been our hope to store our carry-ons (four rather heavy ones) somewhere so that we might ride a train into NYC and even attend an Ash Wednesday service somewhere, but airport security means we keep our things with us all day long. So we are happy to be occupying our own little corner of Gate 85 until we can board for our last leg of this fantastic trip. We will arrive home about 9 p.m., ready for our own bed, we are sure.

This has been a very wonderful trip for us. Each person of our group was interesting, cooperative, unique in their contribution to the whole, and full of fun and adventure. Then these days of our extension added new memories for Mark and me both. We celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary next month and will now treasure these last two weeks as another of our great adventures. Thanks for following along with us.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Tombs of Petra

Monday was all about Petra. This is described as “one of the world’s most impressive and atmospheric archaeological sites,” and we definitely found it to be so. Between the third century BC and the first century A.D., it was under the domain of the Nabataeans. They used these cavernous walls mostly for burial purposes, it seems. Many tombs are evident, although no bones have ever been found.  Our first picture is near the entrance into the city.

The gorgeous fa├žade you see in this picture is what is called the Treasury. The name comes from Bedouin folklore suggesting there was a treasure deposited in the urn above the central area. It was more likely a temple.

We enjoyed the colorful striated rock formations. At the presentation we saw about the mosaics, we learned that all colors are natural because of such layers of the sandstone that contain hints of other coloring minerals. Mark declared this his favorite picture of the day, so I thought I best add it here.

We asked to walk up to this area, where we could step inside, again to see many graves, albeit empty. There was a group of Americans that appreciated the great acoustics of the room. They began singing a contemporary Christian song we both knew, “I Love You, Lord,” so we joined. The reverberation was just wonderful. Mark encouraged them to do the same thing at St. Anne’s in Jerusalem, where our group sang the Common Doxology, and they said they were headed there and would remember.
From this point to the end point, where we would have a great lunch (done by Crown Plaza services) I (Miriam) decided I needed to experience an animal ride, as Mark had ridden a camel near Jericho. So we hired Ishan to lead his donkey Zuzu down the path with me on her. It was fun. The picture includes another boy who was pretty jealous that Ishan had gotten our business.

After lunch Mark and I enjoyed the walk back. The whole trek is between six and seven miles round trip, with the gradual uphill coming on the return trip, but it is gradual with lots of chances to stop and learn and view, so it is a very manageable trek.
We headed north to Amman, Jordan, after the Petra experience, where we stayed at a beautiful Hyatt Regency Hotel. Our fun of the evening was complete attention from the waiter staff in the Lounge. We had gone for a glass of wine before dinner. The view was great, chairs comfortable, and a pianist/harpist was providing lovely music in the background. The host told us we could eat our dinner from that spot as well, brought us menus from all three restaurants in the hotel, from which we ordered soup and a meat dish each. Mark asked for a refill on the wine, but from that point they refilled both of ours a few times. We had some fine conversation with the host. Then they brought us a blank sheet of paper and asked that we write an evaluation of our evening, with both the host and waiter being willing to spell their names for us. It was really just wonderful fun!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On to Jordan

Sunday morning and we are in a taxi, not in church, heading for Jordan. The cab was at our hotel on time and took us to the King Hussein (aka Allenby Bridge) crossing. Check point one took twenty minutes.  After a couple more check points, without requiring passport, we arrived at Israeli customs. Out of the cab, into the customhouse, $104 paid for VIP service (recommended for the complicated border crossing, although overpriced in our view), including a soft chair, coffee, hot chocolate, a bottle of water each and not having to stand in a fairly long line as two people handle our papers. Ten minutes later, we are taken through customs, no problem, then into a shuttle. Shuttle races through barren land and then another custom house, where we got coffee, sat in big chairs, had our passports checked and watched others come into and go out of the room. After almost an hour, Mark decided to inquire about our next step. We are so glad he did, for our guide and driver had been waiting outside for us for about 45 minutes of that hour. They had already started calling to see if we had cancelled.
This is a new experience for us, as we are the only two with a guide and driver as long as we are in Jordan. They are both very nice. Our guide lived in Dallas, Texas, for about seven years. He speaks English well and is animated and funny.
Our tour guide doubles as a picture taker.
Our first stop was Mt. Nebo, where a Franciscan church and monastery sit to commemorate Moses, as it was from this mount that God allowed Moses to see Canaan though he was not to go into it.

Portion of the mosaic

From there we headed to Madaba, where there is a large and impressive mosaic dating from the middle of the 6th century. Having seen reproductions of this mosaic in Jerusalem, seeing the original was wonderful.

Jordan scene from highway.
The scenery surrounding us for most of the ride today looks like this picture. There is so little green. 

Ready for the second story.
Also so many of the homes we saw looked like the one pictured below. We asked about the concrete posts with steel rebar protruding from almost every roof. Our guide explained that the families do not have enough money to build two floors immediately but look ahead when they will have more children and more money. This gives them a start on that step. He also told us they are not allowed in Amman, Jordan, probably because they are not that attractive.

We also stopped at a mosaic studio and had a tour with demonstrations of creating the mosaics and painting pottery vases to look like mosaics. Queen Noor, former American and widow of King Hussein, has been a big supporter of the arts as an industry in Jordan, including mosaics, ceramics, quilts, small weavings and banners, all very beautifully done.

Shobak from a distance.
Shobak from a cool inside passageway.
Our last stop of the day was at Shobak, a castle high on a hill begun by the first Crusader king, and expanded later by Turks and Mamelukes. It was re-discovered in 1884 and Jordan is in the process of refurbishing this site. It was fun walking around it.

We are now at a fine hotel in Petra and will spend most of tomorrow walking through that archeological treasure. (Sorry for all the blank spaces in this post. Posting the pictures seems to put those in.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

St. Andrews and the Citadel

As I look out our hotel window, the sun is setting and the warm temps. of the day are dropping. We took a walk this morning on the outside of the Old City to the Chapel of St Andrew, a Presbyterian church supported by Scotland. We include a picture of this both for our Scottish friend Bruce Campbell (his wife Sue does not quite qualify, as her maiden name of Kunkel is about as Scottish as Stuenkel) and for our grandson Andrew.

Schindler's grave in center with the rocks
On the walk back from there, we found the Christian cemetery that holds the grave of Oskar Schindler. We recall the scene from the end of “Schindler’s List” where survivors he saved came to his grave and place the traditional rocks on it. You can see lots of such rocks on his grave, quite a tribute.

For lunch we again chose pizza from Jacob’s Pizza across the street that we ate once more on the terrace outside our Gloria Hotel. And we are so glad we ate close to the hotel, for when Mark went to return the tray we had used, he found our tour guide Naim sitting there, eating before he came to the hotel to find us. We enjoyed one last visit with him and exchanged e-mail addresses, hoping to see each other again. He made the sign of the cross over each of us before he left and told us he had done that for each member of our tour group at the airport. He was a wonderful guide and we are grateful.

Our afternoon excursion was The Citadel, which houses the Tower of David and a great museum of the history of the Holy Land. It started with the Canaanite days, about the time of Abraham and Sarah up to the Six Day War of 1967. We again enjoyed identifying the areas and buildings of this city from the lookouts from one of the towers.

Our last two ventures were walks, one called the Rampart Walk, which goes along the top of the Wall that surrounds the Old City of Jerusalem. It is not possible to take this all the way around. We went from the Joffa Gate north until we had to leave at the Lion’s (or Stephen’s) Gate. It was interesting looking down into the back yards of homes and seeing children playing on soccer fields and basketball courts not visible from other walkways. The second was a stroll through a high end shopping area just below the Joffa Gate outside of the Old City. We found a Columbia Store there, among lots of other American stores. We post this for our son Chris who works for them.

We head now for a dinner, final packing and an early bed in preparation for our early pickup tomorrow morning that will take us to the Jordan part of our trip. We regret not being able to be here for worship at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer tomorrow. That would have been wonderful, we know.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Full Friday

Our day began with thoughts of our son Lucas, who is celebrating his 29th birthday today. It seemed fitting to send him an e-card with a verse from the Psalms in it, as we visited the tomb of King David this evening.
After mornings task, such as breakfast, blog writing and publishing, catching up with e-mail, etc., we headed to the bus station outside the Damascus Gate to find a #75 heading up the Mount of Olives. Out goal was not sight-seeing but a blood test I (Miriam) needed to check coumadin dosage. Anyone out there on coumadin will know what I mean. Augusta Victoria Hospital seemed a friendly place to do this, and it was.
Bells at the Church of the Ascension 

While we waited for the results of the test, Mark climbed the 220 steps up the bell tower of the Lutheran Church of the Ascension. He took some great pictures of the area around and some of the bells within the tower, which we heard ring and recorded at 12 noon. We’ve done several movies to get certain sounds of the trip, but have not tried to post those on the blog.
While Mark exercised, I sat in the sun – sipping cappuccino and eating a lovely German cake on the cafe deck just below the bell tower. Thus both Mark and I were getting our needs met at the same time. 

Mark forging ahead into the melee.
This peaceful moment offset the hubbub of the marketplace, where there were lots of Arab merchants and shoppers. Maneuvering these crowds going in and out of the Old City was an adventure each time.

After a pizza lunch eaten in the courtyard of our hotel, we headed back out, this time back to the Wailing Wall to put several prayer notes into crevices. We hope the Jews do not mind the prayers in Jesus’ name that we offered there. We knew we had to do this early, as the Shabat (Sabboth) was coming when the crowds would make this impossible. A picture coming later will show this amazing scene.
ELCA communion service at the Garden Tomb
From there we walked to the Damascus Gate once more to see the Garden’s Tomb (sometimes called Gordon’s Tomb). This is an alternate site for both the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and was proposed as such in 1883, so relatively recently. There is, of course, much speculation about this. It is a beautiful garden setting and much quieter and simpler than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As we finished walking through this area, we saw and heard a group beginning a communion service. We sat down to listen, because this was our Lutheran liturgy being used. The group was from Atlanta, Georgia, as I had learned earlier when we encountered them at the tomb itself. We are quite sure it was an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) group, as their minister was a woman. It was sweet to hear the familiar words being spoken in that place. They had competition behind them from a group singing and shouting loudly, but on the other side was no competition, as it was a group using sign language. Lots of preaching was going on all around us.
Approaching the Church of the Dormition
After a brief respite in our room, we headed out for the late afternoon and evening, going first to Mt. Zion in the Jewish Quarter. Have I mentioned that the Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters? They are the Aremenian (a country that no longer exists but boasts the first Christian emperor, before Constantine), Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. At Mt. Zion we saw the Church of the Dormition, the place where legend says Mary, mother of Jesus, died (went dormant, as the name implies). I like this picture of Mark approaching the church. We snuck in at the last minute, as the man at the door was just about to close up but let about six or seven of us in yet.

There is another site here labeled as King David’s tomb. And there was a place labeled the Upper Room, the name of the place where Jesus and the disciples had the Passover meal and Christ instituted the Lord’s supper. Since all of that is 20 to 30 feet below where we were standing, neither is likely, which is probably why there were no crowds at either place.

Wailing Wall at Sabboth
Our walk continued to the Wailing Wall just as Sabboth was starting. Here is a picture of what we saw. We saw several groups of about 15-20 standing in a circle with locked arms singing and dancing, lots of the black hats and side curls of the Hasidic Jews, much rocking as individuals prayed or read from the Torah. It was something to behold. As a Christian, it was a bit sad to me, so many people holding up so devoutly the tradition of their faith, but a faith that does not have the living Christ as its foundation.

To end the evening we were looking for an Armenian Christian restaurant, as both the Jewish and Muslim folks were in the midst of their holy day. A merchant accosted us on the street and asked us what we were looking for – shopping, perhaps? No, eating. His response was to lead us to the “best” restaurant around. In return, we were to come to his shop after we ate. It was indeed and Armenian Christian place and a fine meal, we both finally had lamb chops, but we were the only customers in the rather large place. Our friend was back even before we finished to lead us to his shop. We can see why he has to go out and get folks, because his shop is off the path. We did buy the last gift we were looking for from him. He tried for more, of course. At one point he said to Mark, “Your wife is nice but she’s not easy.” He closed his shop up as we left, but not before giving me a big hug. Interesting guy!

This picture speaks to the complexity in this historic city, as you can see the minaret and dome of the Muslim Dome of the Rock in the background of the Wailing Wall scene of last night. One last day in Jerusalem tomorrow!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Continuing on the Journey as a Twosome

I will admit that I held back a few tears Thursday morning as we saw our group off to the airport. They have been just wonderful about everything. We understand from Karen Wrye that their travelers’ patience has been tried yet one more time. The flight from Tel Aviv to Newark was delayed two hours, meaning a missed flight to Portland. Thankfully, Continental put them up in a hotel for the night and they take off a few hours from when I am writing this, hopefully rested enough to take on the six hour flight ahead of them yet.

Our tour guide Naim
Our bus driver Kazm

We also thanked our able tour guide Naim and skilled bus driver Kazm, both of whom made things go smoothly on this end for us.

Looking East to the Mount of Olives with the
Holy Sepulchre dome in foreground.
From there we walked over to Redeemer Lutheran church and climbed the 186 steps up the bell tower. The view from up there going north, south, east and west is amazing and fun, especially after being to many of the sites and acquiring a growing knowledge of the Old City of Jerusalem.

A shopaholic's dream!

We did a bit a shopping, catching the merchants as they were just opening up their shops. Here is a view of a typical lane with everything open. We saw these streets everywhere. Shopkeepers are very aggressive about getting your attention, as you can imagine they have to be in such a competitive market. One marketer in side the Joffa Gate, which is how we got to our Gloria Hotel, said out of frustration, “Why does no one look at me? Is it because I am Arab?” I smiled, as most of our shopping has been in Palestinian shops.
Model of Jerusalem at before the destruction in 70 A.D. (or C.E.)

Mark and I set off to get to the Israeli Museum by bus. After a few mixed directions and waits at the wrongs stops, we did finally make our way across West Jerusalem to the museum. This is a very well done collection of several things. There is a wonderful display of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their history. Having been to Qumran, this was fun. There is also an amazing model of Jerusalem at the time of Christ. It is fun to try to retrace Christ’s path of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as he went from Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate, finally going the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha for the crucifixion. The model makes that easier to picture than when actually on the streets.

We opted for a taxi home and enjoyed a quiet dinner at a French/Italian restaurant hardly ten steps from our hotel. Another early bedtime prepares us for tomorrow’s adventures.

A Really Wonderful Last Day

It was yet another beautiful blue sky that greeted us as we awoke this Wednesday morning. Our first stop was the Augusta Victoria Hospital sitting right on the top of the Mount of Olives. Rev. Mark Brown is the Middle East representative of the Lutheran World Federation. He gave us almost two hours of his time to explain to us both the history and the current work at this hospital.

Until the Peace Agreement under the Clinton administration, this was the only hospital that gave consistent and compassionate care to the thousands of Palestinians that live in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the West Bank. There are now six hospitals that serve the Palestinian population, each with specialties or emphases. Currently oncology and nephrology for both children and adults and a type of hospice for elderly people are the main focus of their work. It was nice to hear that just recently the USA donated a second radiation machine to the hospital, thanks to a visit from Dr. Biden, wife of our vice president, about a year ago. Countries from around the world have and continue to donate to this house of mercy, and we were proud to know that now we have as well. We appreciated the views we had of Jerusalem from this promontory.

Our bus took us to the start of the Palm Sunday Walk. It is still a definite walk down today. Today there are still many olive trees to the along the path and cemeteries Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths on the left side. You can see Arlyce Riedl on the path. 

At the bottom of the mount is the Garden of Gethsemane. Some of the trees in the garden are very old. We have featured one of the oldest with one of our lovely group members, Myrna Brandt, in front of it. She is much, much younger and prettier than these 2000 year-old trees. 

This was a lovely garden with a beautiful Church of All Nations on the site. It is one of the most restful and peaceful churches we have been in. The stained glass windows do not show the cross so prominently as you look at them, but it clearly stands out in a picture.

Our last stop was the Chapel of St. Anne, commemorating a site thought to be a home of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne. This church is right next to what was once the Pool of Bethesda. You may read John 5 for the story. There has been excavation to show the five different pools that once made up this site for cleansing and in this case healing. The acoustics in the worship room here are amazing. We listened to a group from Poland sing an Alleluia verse, then our group answered with the common Doxology, in parts as we could manage. Before we left this garden and chapel, Sweet Sandy Salisbury lit yet one more candle as she sent prayers to heaven for loved ones. She did that at several churches. 

It struck us all that this was the last place on our itinerary that we were going to visit. Some sadness accompanied that thought, although many did not mind that this was also the end of all the up and down climbing we have been doing for over a week now.

There was some time for some last minute shopping before our farewell dinner at the hotel. We took a chance to meet together in one of the hotel rooms after supper so that Mark and I could present each group member with a coveted “Hoelter Award,” each one individual to the person from comments and experiences we had together on the trip. That was fun! 

Ten of us walked the mile or so to the luxurious King David Hotel for one last nightcap together. We had an accommodating waiter who made us quite comfortable. Tomorrow morning Mark and I say a very fond farewell to these wonderful traveling partners.