Disclosure: My previous blog posts have consisted of two days of travel or less each. This post accounts for my stay in Israel in it’s entirety – four days. I was a little too consumed with inhaling “falafel in pita” and daydreaming over four millennia of history that I postponed documenting it all until I finished.
Visiting the Holy Land is like trying to explain the color green to someone who was born blind. An imagination can only take someone so far. Seeing and experiencing the sites has forever colored in the lines of scripture for me. I’ll go day by day, “falafel in pita” by “falafel in pita,” and do by best to recall my adventures in the Holy Land.
I walked through the Jaffa Gate and into the Old City, checked into my room at Christ Church Guest House, and spent some time wandering before sunset and thus began my enslavement to the wonders of “falafel in pita.”
I began my expedition through the Old City with the City of David. Located just outside the city gates, the City of David is the original Canaanite city that David conquered with his troops and established as capital of the new kingdom.
I knew I was going to be learning a bit more history on this trip than I already knew, but I didn’t expect that I’d eventually just be opening my mouth over the gushing fire hydrant of history, trying to drink in as much as I could retain without my eyes popping out of my head. There were excavation sites that showed structures dating back to the original city, and I got to stand on top of the hill that the city was built on and get an irreplaceable view of the geography of the place, and why location was as ideal as it was.
Then I took off my socks, bought a cheap five shekel keychain light, and descended into Hezekiah’s Tunnel, fed by the Gihon Spring. The Gihon Spring was the city’s supply of a constant source of fresh water. So when King Hezekiah was under the threat of Assyrian attack, he (well, probably not the king himself, but slaves with pick axes and the strength of a John Deere) chiseled an underground tunnel that channeled the water into the city walls. The Jews survived the Assyrian attack, and water and hoards of tourists still flow through the 5ft. by 2 1/2 ft. tunnel to this day. Chisel marks are still visible, many of which left their mark on my skull as I continually tried to stand up straight and stretch.The tunnel is a few hundred meters took about 20 minutes to hike the entire thing.
Near the end of the trek through the C.O.D, I continued aimlessly through another underground tunnel that I paid a few extra shekels for, and eavesdropped enough on the tour guide in front of me to realize that I was standing beneath the Western Wall. Be-neath the Wes-tern Wall. For a few minutes, I had the corridor to myself and enjoyed my one-on-one time with the wall, even though I knew there were roughly a kajillion people four meters above touching the wall as well.
After ascending from the depths of the first century into the sizzling Israeli sun, I realized I was in the middle of the Ophel Archaeological Park, and with my repulsion toward a set itinerary on this trip, I wandered among the Second Temple (Jesus’ stompin’ grounds) ruins for a bit, and spent some time observing a Friday afternoon at the Western Wall while feeling like Bok Choy in a wok at P.F. Chang’s under the Israeli sun.
I felt like I could hear the bartering of shopkeepers and the sizzling of falafel in the Muslim Quarter, so I meandered my way over to see what my guidebook raved about. I dodged a few dozen street kitties, and wandered through the quarter and out the Damascus Gate, but not without snagging some dates, figs and mixed nuts from one of the many vendors selling goods out of a shop about the size of a walk-in closet. I also fed my “falafel in pita” addiction. Duh.
I ended the night early because I was going have an early morning…
… but I didn’t. You know that feeling when you’ve forgotten or missed something and your heart instantly turns into a bowling ball and feels like it crushes a strike on the rest of your internal organs? Well I woke up at 7:00 for my 6:00am tour that I’d scheduled a month in advance to Nazareth and Galilee (northern Israel) with nothing on the to-do list for the day. I shot a quick email to the tour group, with my fingers crossed that I could hop on the Monday tour. And so I bit off the unplanned piece of daily bread that the Lord had for me, ate my weight in the free breakfast from the church, took the morning fairly slowly, laced up my Merrels and headed out to Mount Zion.
Mount Zion is where the slightly well-known events of the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost took place. Before the rush of tour groups, I was able to sit with a few others in silence in the upper room and just sit. I didn’t necessarily start doing backflips and speaking in tongues, nor did I really feel any type of overwhelming emotion. The others and I just peacefully sat in the place that the tradition of communion began and where the Lord gave his Spirit to believers on Earth.
Then I smelled flaf n’ pete (I acquired a nickname basis with the food) and scurried out.
I figured the Mount of Olives would be pretty sweet, so I weaved through the city, fending off overly-aggressive shopkeepers and ended up being seduced by some orange-lookin’ dessert from the Muslim Quarter.
I arrived breathing heavily and ringing the sweat out of my shirt at the top of the Mount of Olives (across the Kidron Valley from the Old City), and began my multi-stationed tour of the mountain at the Church of Christ’s Ascension, where, of course, Christ ascended into Heaven. The small dome, built in the 11th century, was no larger than the size of my bedroom I grew up in. It was quaint and quiet, and after a few minutes, I chunked my deuces to the sky and kept walking.
My next stop was the Church of Pater Noster, the place where Jesus is said to have foretold the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans and his own Second Coming. The church, meaning “Our Father” in Latin, had a garden as well as a collection of the Lord’s Prayer written in over 140 languages all over the church.
I then stepped off the curb wrong, rolled my ankle, yelled a few words I shouldn’t have, and limped over to the Sanctuary of Dominus Flevit. “Dominus Flevit” translates literally as “the Lord wept.” The quaint chapel, shaped itself like tear drop, commemorates where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
Lastly, I ended at the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed over the “cup” He was to receive from His Father the following day. I cooled off in the Church of All Nations next door, then headed back to see the garden. I strolled along the fence and hummed one of my favorite hymns, “I Stand Amazed (In the Presence),” and stood still next to the enormous olive trees that are said to have been live witnesses to Jesus as he “shed no tear for His own griefs, but sweat drops of blood for mine.”
I walked off the soreness in my tender left ankle up and around the city to the Jaffa gate where I was going to call it a day, but not before I snagged the last ticket for sale to the 9:00pm showing of the pictorial history of Jerusalem projected onto the walls of the Tower of David. ‘Twas entertaining.
Sunday morning I attended the church service at Christ Church (my residence for 5 nights) and ended up engaging in such rich conversation with a couple from Illinois, that they treated me and another friend to lunch. I strolled through the Tower of David museum later on in the afternoon where I once again had so much Israeli history shoved in my mouth at once that I could barely chew it all.
I had planned on also walking the Stations of the Cross, but I got lost and went straight to the Garden Tomb which ended up being closed for the day.
Although slightly disappointed, I ended up chuckling myself to sleep over the three words: He. Is. Risen. We don’t need no stinkin’ Garden Tomb! So I chowed a Flafn’Pete and crashed.
The tour company let me jump on the Monday tour. Score. I set three, count ’em, one-two-three alarms to ensure my getting up at 5:00am for my tour to Nazareth and Galilee. My tour consisted of an intimate group of a guide, five others from around the world, and me. My fingers are getting tired from typing, so here’s a summary of the day:
– Nazareth. Jesus’ hood. Was a small town where He carpentered stuff, now a bustling city.
– Church of Annunciation. Where Gabriel came down to Mary and said “Wussup girl, you’re giving birth to the Messiah, coo?
– Saw the mountain that the Transfiguration took place on.
– Went to the place-ish where Jesus was like “Yo, can you give me that bread and those fish, these peeps are starvin’.” And he fed them.
– Went to Simon Peter’s house and the town where many of the apostles are from where the group of guys dug a hole in the roof to lower down their friend for Jesus to touch and heal. That was powerful.
– Splashed my face with some Jordan River. Pretended I was John the Baptist minus the whole eating locus and wearing animal skins part.
– Took a picture of a camel with ugly teeth.
– Savored my last F-n’-P.
– End the day with a conversation with a young lady on staff with Campus Crusade at my hotel who lived in Fayetteville, in the same house that I’m living in this semester. Small world.
All of that being said, I’m never going to read Scripture the same. I got to see where Jesus wept for Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. I got to see the hills that David and his soldiers snuck up in the night to conquer his future capital city. I learned a lot about human nature through the rich history of Jerusalem, one of the only cities on earth to be constantly inhabited for over 4,000 years.
I’d love to go back someday.
I’m sitting in the bar on the bottom floor of my hostel in Rome, Italy now. For the past few weeks, I’ve felt it was possible to “conquer” the towns I’ve been in and for the most part, do just about everything. Not in Rome. I’m ready though. We’ll see where a good pair of Merrels and dose of curiosity take me.
In the words of Ron Burgundy, “When in Rome.”