[41] Northern Israel images

One of the benefts of traveling with someone who's familiar with the country is that they usually already know how to get around. Israel is not that big---about the size of New Jersey, in fact---and so it was with some ease that my dad and I were able to see a lot more of the countryside in a rental car.

Our first stop after leaving Jerusalem was Caesarea, the ruins of a Roman-style city built by King Herod on the Mediterranean between 25 and 13BC in honor of Julius Caesar. Israel is surprisingly full of Roman ruins, and this one included a hippodrome site, an aqueduct, and an ampitheatre that's still used today.Me getting soaked by the deceivingly powerful Mediterranean waves.Columns from one of the pavilions, and one of my best shots from the trip, IMHO.A current resident of the city ruins.The aqueduct. It was a beautiful day...the air was so much clearer there on the coast, it tended to get a little hazy inland due to the desert winds and dust.We continued north and had a delicious seafood lunch in the fishing town of Acre (pronounced "Ah-ko"). By this time I'd been in the country about three or four days, and was growing accustomed to the Arabic-style meals that almost always included pickled olives, hummus, and pita. It all is actually quite good. Really!Apparently the Knights Templar had fashioned a secret tunnel through some of Acre, which tourists can now walk through. While a little low in some places, it has a boardwalk over the water and is well-lit, so it's really nothing like Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem!Continuing north, I was struck by how similar the landscape is to California---this wasn't the desolate desert I'd expected! We passed through the Hulah Valley, a verdant region (more or less man-made, too!) that seems to accommodate every sort of agriculture imaginable. To say that Israel is self-sufficient would be an understatement, I don't think they need to import anything considering everything that they grow themselves!By the time we reached our bed-and-breakfast destination outside of Kiryat Shmona, it was sundown on a Friday, which means Shabbat had begun and everything was closed. It also wasn't just any old Shabbat, it was Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday of Christmas-size magnitude. It was downright creepy how everything shut down...and I mean everything. Restaurants were dark, gas stations sat empty, grocery stores and convenience marts were locked up tight. I should have taken a photo of how desolate the streets were, but I was keeping my eyes peeled for any sign of life so we could EAT! We managed to find an Arab shopkeeper whose roadside convenience store was open (his door was broken so he had no choice, otherwise he'd have been closed, too!) and we bought some pastries, fruit, pita, and cheese. The few people we did see in the next 24 hours stared at us---it's forbidden to drive on Shabbat, and almost downright sacrilegeous to drive on Yom Kippur, when all the children take to the empty streets on their bikes!To kill some time before turning in, we drove up to Metulla, a town on the Lebanese border. This sign reads "STOP--Border Ahead!!" Lebanon didn't look much different from Israel, except maybe less green and more desertlike. And the towns we could see from the border all had minarets, something the entirely absent from the northern Jewish villages.An art "sculpture" on the roadside.I know, MORE cats, right? These lil' kittens were so cute, they were living at our bed and breakfast!As we left the Hulah Valley and made our way into the Golan Heights, we began to see more indications of past conflcts between Israel and its northern Muslim neighbors, Syria and Lebanon.We found a historic battle site, Tel Fahr, that was miraculously open on Yom Kippur, and of course completely devoid of other tourists.Me in one of the bunkers at Tel Fahr. The story of this fort is actually quite amazing. It sits on a hill (aka, a tel) overlooking the Hulah Valley and was once Syrian territory. It was a valuable strategic point for launching offensives into Israel, and in 1967 during the Six-Day War, a heroic brigade of Israeli Defense were able to capture it, against all odds. The tales from the battle were mind-blowing; the Israeli solders had to struggle up the mine-ridden hill under heavy fire from the bunkers. One Israeli soldier, wounded, laid himself across the fort's barbed wire so his comrades could cross into the trenches...and that is only one of several incredible stories of Israeli bravery in Tel Fahr's capture. I decided right there that I definitely do not want to go to war with Israel. Ever. Hehe.Tel Fahr trenches.A Christian church up the road from Tel Fahr. If you're thinking that hole in the wall is from a rocket, you're probably right. This is still within striking range of the Lebanese border.The interior of the church, with what is likely another rocket-hole in the ceiling. I highly doubt anyone was actually present when this place was hit.Woah, I couldn't believe we found this! It was just on the roadside in the Golan as we cruised on by... My dad speculated that it might be planted as a memorial of some kind, but it's just as possible that it's real and, besides undoubtedly being diffused, otherwise untouched since it landed. Who knows!Signs of life in the Golan :DNow this I'm more certain was NOT planted and probably has been lying out by the road in Golan Heights since some hapless soldier lost it in the 60s.A view east. Basically where the greenery ends is where Syria begins.Lol, along with the "mine sign" picture, I took to calling these types of photos "Matt shots," because I knew if Matt (the bf) were to see them as I took them, he'd probably freak out and fret for my safety. Well, knowing him, he probably fretted anyway, picture or no picture. But really, all was quiet on the Western front. I felt as safe in Israel as I feel in California, despite its 'proximity' to Baghdad and mines still littering its roadside fields.Heading a little more south now. This is the Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Kinneret by locals.The Sea was so flat and calm and warm, I could see why so many people were camped out there for the holiday weekend. I kind of wanted to roll out a barbecue and camp out, too!My dad cooling off.It was smooth as glass...with teeny fish!A panorama of the lake.This is a monastery (SILENCE, the sign says when you enter) on the northern bank of the Sea of Galilee that is also known as the Church of the Bread and Fishes, as it celebrates the site where Jesus supposedly performed his miracle of feeding multitudes of his followers from a single supply of bread and fish."Crossing Jordan," hehe! The Jordan River feeds into the Sea of Galilee.A baptismal site in the Jordan River. Look at all those fish! I dunno if I'd wanna be dunked there...The Jordan River obviously is significant to the Jewish faith as well. Here Stars of David are carved into a tree on its bank by pilgrims.It looks so pretty and peaceful...I went wading in at the baptismal site and almost got EATEN ALIVE BY FISH! This is a picture of me genuinely reacting to having my toes relentlessly nibbled.The culprits!!On our way back to Jerusalem we stopped at the ruins of the ancient city of Bet She'an, which was HUGE and really well preserved! This picture is of the city's main street.My dad on the (other end of) the main street. The Romans really were geniuses. They built all their cities from the same blueprint, so visiting soldiers and merchants couldn't get lost.You know you're walking on historic soil when you can just reach down and pick up a piece of ancient pottery.A panorama of Jordan from Bet She'an.The heating system for the Roman baths. The pool was built on top of these columns, through which hot air was piped to heat the water.A Bedouin camp in the hills outside of Jerusalem. I didn't get to meet any Bediouin, but I did see a lot of their camels!

Jerusalem, redux!

Me at the Dome of the Rock. Apparently people can be kicked out of the site if they aren't dressed appropriately---for women this means no short skirts, shorts, low necklines (tank tops), or sleeveless shirts, and often a covered head. It was well over 80 degrees out so you can imagine how uncomfortable walking around in long sleeves and pants was!A Muslim coming to mosque.View of Jerusalem's Christian Quarter from the Temple Mount area.Detail from the mosque.A prayer rug.A wall of saints at the Church of DormitionThere's a church built over every site on which anything ever happened in Israel. This is in the Church of the Dormition, which is built to commemorate Mary's vision.A statue of Mary in repose.The Room of the Last Supper.I was there during the Jewish high holidays, including Sukkot, for which Jews built little huts ("suka") near their homes and literally live in them for a week.Zion gate, Old City walls.Zion gate upon closer inspection. Yep, those are definitely bullet holes. The IDF centered on this gate to take the Old City from Muslim forces in 1967. Man, I wish MY hometown had as interesting a history!Corridor in the Armenian museum.A cracked globe at the Armenian museum.Whoddat??I was so proud when I saw this in the Armenian museum! Photography is IMPORTANT, and so are photographers...get out there and shoot!A graveyard behind the museum (which used to be a church, I think).Reflection in a puddle in the courtyard of the Armenian museum.Lutheran Church of the RedeemerLutheran Church of the RedeemerMy dad on the spiral staircase going up a hundred BILLION more stairs to the Church of the Redeemer's bell tower. I think we must have climbed ever bell tower in Jerusalem.Zow! A zoom effect I did on a night shot at the Damascus Gate of the Old City.Damascus gate in daytime. It's a vibrant Arab marketplace!Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City at night. It's all pretty and lit up for the month-long holiday of RamadanIDF on duty at a tourist siteCamel!Shrine of the Book, featuring Dead Sea Scrolls.Shrine of the Book exterior architectureALLLLAA-A-A-H OOOOOOO-AHKBAR!"...Life in Jerusalem?Perhaps due to the cities' impressive cat population, there were few pigeons to keep the streets clean of discarded bread. For some reason there seemed to be abandoned bread all over the place, it was very weird.The Stone of Unction (believed to be the rock where Jesus was laid and purified after crucifiction) at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.A moasic at the entrance of the Holy Sepulchre Church depicting Christ's crucifiction, cleansing, and entombing.A Greek Orthodox priest performing a ceremonyGreek Orthodox monks performing a ceremonyWhat could be considered an average family size in Jerusalem---people seem to breed like the city's cats; I'd see families of five, six, seven or more children sometimes!Interesting fence designMy dad hanging out on the Old City wallsHehe, I took this in downtown Jerusalem. What's odd about this picture?I just thought this was so funny. A very friendly cat walked right into the Church of the Flagellation to say hello :)Jerusalem city

Jerusalem, pt. 1

OK, I'm fiiiiiiiinally getting around to blogging Israel. Zoinks, you know it's been busy when I'm a month behind myself!Most people know that Israel is a predominantly Jewish nation, (what else can you assume when you see the nation's flag!) but only in the same way that America is a "predominantly Christian" nation, that is, modern widespread customs are primarily grounded in one certain religion. Ignorant American that I am, I didn't realize how much Christian and Islamic sights I would also see while in Israel, a country that historically is of the utmost importance to all three religions. The merging of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism was the most evident in Jerusalem, the capital if Israel.

Courtyard of St. Stephen's Convent, with a statue of St. Stephen.St. Stephen's ConventLike any ancient city, Jerusalem's "Old City" citadel is fortified. Olive groves, such as this outside the Western wall, still abound. Mere yards from this grove is a small grove (now enclosed on property belonging to the Church of the Holy Ascension [below]) believed to be the Garden of Gethsamene.Shops and suburbs have sprung up around the Old City walls.Church of the Holy Ascension.A cool freize engraved on a courtyard wall outside the Church of Ascension.Church of Ascension ceiling, Many structures in Jerusalem had similar domed ceilings, though not as ornate!Church of Ascension interiorOne of the things we did in Jerusalem was walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel which is basically a 533-meter waterway with no lights. It would have been monstrously creepy had a loud American group not gone ahead of us, squealing in the dark and generally making merry. It was fun.My feet. We were lucky, it was shallow that day, at its deepest the water only reached my thighs. It was rather difficult taking pictures because there was no light!We didn't have flashlights, but the fellow in front of us lit the way with light from his cell phone...setting my camera for a long exposure turned out some pretty interesting photos!The "light at the end" of Hezekiah's Tunnel is the Pool of Siloam.Israel's military (Israeli Defense Force, or IDF) is unique in that every Israeli citizen is required to serve at least two years. Most people sign up right after high school or college, and the only exceptions that I know of are ultra-religious Orthodox Jews.If I hadn't been accompanied by my own dad everywhere, I may have bought my brother a hookah while there.Did I mention the nation's flag and subsequent Jewish inferences? I didn't buy so many souvenirs in Israel because so many of them had the Star of David displayed so obviously on them. Wearing a shirt with the Israel flag on it would not mean "Israel" to Americans, but instead "Jewish." You can see how quickly the novelty would wear off.The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is more or less a Church built over (encompassing) a smaller church, which is built to encompass a little mausoleum that was once a tomb in a hill. It's kind of ironic that the exterior of this place is not too much to look at considering it's practically the holiest site in Christendom.Pilgrim inscriptions on the wall inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Tourists queue up to enter Christ's tomb from the moment the Church opens in the morning to the hour it closes in the evening.The tomb is located underneath a magnificent dome.Incense burners hang over a little shrine at the tomb's entrance.This is what the tomb actually looks like---an empty slab surrounded by candles and steeped in history. The interior of the tomb itself is actually very cramped, fitting only about three people at a time; a priest acts as a bouncer, literally kicking people out if they take too long...I saw him gently escort a nun out when she wouldn't stop praying by the slab! Tough love.Across from the tomb is an enormous Greek Orthodox sanctuary with another splendid dome, this one featuring the image of Christ.I think I mentioned cats everywhere in a previous post. I can't believe the numbers. I used to think that every city in the world had an impressive pigeon population, but not in Israel, and you can easily guess why...In Judaism it's respectful to cover your head, symbolizing your awareness and respect for God above; hence skullcaps and scarves covering hair. I bought a scarf to wear to holy sites for the sake of general etiquette.Woah! While we were at the Western Wall plaza, there was a bomb threat. Well, it wasn't really a bomb threat, it was a "suspicious object," which is terribly common and is usually just a bag someone has forgotten. At any rate, they roped off the area and brought in the suspicious-object-machine.When the suspicious-object-machine deemed the object safe, a bomb team specialist strolled over and took it. It turned out just to be a lost backpack. But they take these things seriously, obviously.The Western Wall plaza. The Western (or "Wailing") Wall is the holiest site in Judaism, as it is the closest accessible point to Temple Mount (the area beneath the Golden Dome, not visible), which is virtually the same place as one of the holiest sites in Islam, the Dome of the Rock (also highly regarded in many Christian circles). So there you have it. Some of the most holy sites in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all pretty much in one spot. Hotly contested, to say the least.A Jewish scribe in his downtown shop.The Eastern wall of the Old City.Unfortunately in the Middle East, many women and children are cast out onto the street if the woman's husband dies. She has technically been "given" to the husband, and when he is gone she is no longer under the protection of her own family, or his. Many widows end up as beggars.The interior of the Augusta Victoria church on the Mount of Olives. This church had about a billion stairs and no elevator, so you can imagine how much I was hurting the next day!But at the top, you could see for miles until the horizon just disappeared into a desert haze. Israel really isn't that big, I bet on a clear day you could see all the way to the Jordanian border from this Jerusalem bell tower. This shot is of the outerlying fence cutting Jerusalem off from the West Bank. It's a sad way to isolate a lot of people, but effective; there have been few, if any, attacks by terrorists in Jerusalem since this fence was built.A Jerusalem suburbian hillside at dusk.The Old City walls at night, with surrounding traffic.UGGHH these things were the bane of my existence. It's a minaret, and they're all over cities with any kind of formidable Muslim population. They're used these days to blare the call to prayer five times a day (that's a 24-hour day, not sunrise to sunset), which signals to Muslims that it's time to get out the prayer rug bow five times to Mecca in prayer. Now, under normal circumstances the call to prayer is an enchanting musical recitation, even beautiful if it's live and not a recording. "Allah u Ahkbar" ("God is great") and variations on that, again and again. But the first of these is at 4AM sharp, and you can hear it from ANYWHERE. It was impossible to sleep through because I was there during Ramadan, a Muslim fasting holiday, so the 4am call to prayer was kicked off by a loud BANG of a firecracker to signal that the fasting had begun (at dusk another firecracker prior to the call to prayer signified that it was OK to eat again). So while in Jerusalem, I was awakened every night at 4am by the nearest minarets.A memorial at the Holocaust Museum. Photos weren't allowed within the museum itself, but I can testify that it was rather horrific, as expected. I learned that I was what Nazi Germany considered to be a mischling of the second degree. A "mudblood," if you will, hehehe. I also figured out that some of my anscestors may have suffered or perished during the Holocaust in Lithuania, where my grandfather was from.