Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Our last day in Israel and home

 Coral reefs looking out the Observatory's windows.

 Hub being hub.

 Red Sea Observatory and Aquarium

Our last day in Israel was a bit surreal.

After desert, desert, and more desert...we took a cab further south along the shore of the Red Sea and visited the Observatory and Aquarium.

A very neat place...just a few miles from the Egyptian border and far enough from Eilat ....to forget you're in a resort area.

We tackled the observatory first....We climbed several sets of stairs and ended up on the walkway.  Oh.....even on a hot day...there was a cool breeze off the water!  You could see the Jordanian mountains, Saudi Arabian Mountains...the base and mountains around Mt. Sinai in Egypt and of course the Israeli foothills and desert.  Amazing....and if you looked down into the clear water...you could see scattered coral reefs all around the base of the structure.

What is neat about this observatory is you can then climb down the stairs and descend a couple levels down into the Red Sea so you could see the the coral reefs and eye level. That was amazing.....so many colorful fishes....mantra rays....eels.....and gently swaying colorful coral.  It made you feel a thousand degrees cooler just to touch the cold viewing windows.

After our morning looking at fishes....we headed back to the hotel...packed....and did one more walk around the promenade.  We ended up at the Mall....and although I had absolutely no desire to eat at McDonalds.... we did....we were told by several people that the burgers taste so much better because they are kosher and not made with strange fillers.  So we ordered two hamburgers and chomped....hmmmmm.....I did think it tasted more  meaty....like there was actually beef in the burger.  Hub thought so too....maybe if I lived here I'd eat one occasionally but not at home anymore...the burgers have gotten too tan and salty and suspicious.

We flew out the next morning from the Eilat airport to Ben Gurion next to Tel Aviv.  Two domestic airlines leave about every 30 minutes headed north.  Some of the planes are older and propeller driven...fortunately I had a jet...but you'd never know.....since it filled up with people in a matter of minutes and everyone was talking and walking around when they could...it reminded me more of a bus trip than an airplane ride...and it was only 30 minutes long.

Still surprised by our good luck, we rendezvoused in Rome where we stayed overnight and caught planes home.  

This time I was the lucky one and flew business/first class home and hub flew to Ireland and caught a flight to New York then home.  I must admit...business class is nice...not for the food...(its more plentiful but it's still airplane food) but for the leg room...lots of leg room.  Oh my seat had a lever and I could adjust my back, my legs, my angle...amazing.  How comfortable....I'm ruined because I'll know the next time I fly cattle car section....I'm going to pass those comfy seats and return to the stiff cramped seats of coach.

We arrived home all on time.....with all our bags....and with our souvenirs intact.  It's always startling to find yourself home and still in one piece after traveling 14,000 miles.  Of course, in 5 minutes...you wonder if you ever left home...as the familiarity starts surrounding you and you settle back into your routine.

My Shutterfly book just arrived today documenting our trip haven't opened it yet......planning to look at it when I arrive in Hawaii tomorrow.  

Yes....I'm off early in the morning for Honolulu....and then the Big Island.......we have a family wedding there....and hub's siblings are getting together for a reunion.  Should be interesting...we are on the "sunny side" of the island for the wedding and the "rainy side" for the reunion and there's a big belching gassy volcano in between.

But oh....another long plane ride....and not in business class.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


 The entrance to the compound

 Horse drawn carriages compete with walkers for space in the narrow siq.
 Your "National Geographic" moment....when you see "The Sanctuary"

"The Sanctuary"...the main tomb of Petra.

Funny how things get on your bucket list.....the foreign travel section of my Bucket list is pretty simple ....and Petra was always on it.  I'm not exactly sure why Petra was on it or near the top....but it was always one of those places I felt in my bones I should visit.

 There was no epiphany of desire (I was ironing my hub's shirt when I saw the a segment on the Discovery channel highlighting Angkor Wat in Cambodia ...and before I finished the shirt I knew I was going.)...Petra was always there.  Perhaps it's because Petra is next to the Wadi Rum....the great red and rocky desert in Jordan....and I've always wanted to travel there.

After our overheated adventure in Eilat the first day...I was worried about heading to Petra.  I didn't want my hub or myself to tango with heat stroke.  But hub reminded me that Petra was actually up....elevated above sea level....in the Jordanian mountains... and it would be cooler there.  Of course...cooler is relative if you're someplace where it's 113 degrees.

Hub and I were in the lobby by 7am...and on a shuttle van a short time later to the Jordanian border.  An English woman who has lived in Eilat for 20 years....had the sole job of shuttling us through the border crossing. Once we were on the other side, a Jordan tour company would whisk us to Petra.

For some reason, the border crossing made me nervous.  My passport was checked several times and then you had to walk about a city block from the Israeli checkpoint to the Jordanian checkpoint.  It's a paved street enclosed by a high barbed wire fence on both sides.  On each side...there are signs in the sand....reminding you the area beyond the fence is mined.  Obviously....you are supposed to stay on the paved street and head forward to the next checkpoint ...only.

When we (my hub and a small group of 5 other travelers who would be with going with us)...made it to the other checkpoint...the Jordanian police not only looked and stamped our passports....but took a retinal image scan of our eyes!  Yikes.  You just look into a viewfinder ...much like the DMV vision checker...and poof...you are now in the Jordanian government's security file.  Sometimes I still think of my scan...a 100 years from now....will my blue eyes still be in their digital file?

Our two Jordanian guides met us after we left the checkpoint and we headed to Petra.  Along the way....they had prearranged a visit at a Bedouin's highway stop.  The small wrinkled man....had a couple camels....a chicken sitting in an empty steel cabinet...a couple desert turtles in empty fruit boxes with lettuce scattered at the bottom....and a multicolored canopy where you could sit on some wooden boxes covered with blankets in the shade and have the traditional mint tea of the desert.

So we had tea...he boiled the water....added sugar...rinsed the glasses out first...then poured tea for everyone.  It was good tea...minty and sweet.  I walked over to the pen holding the camels and gazed out beyond them into the desert.  There was the Wadi Rum....I knew it....you could just see the edge of it....a little tease of rugged black rocks sitting in soft red sand.  My hub called me back....but I wanted to go forward....into the Wadi Rum.  I knew it wasn't possibly today...or maybe ever....so I tried to console myself...I had at least peeked at this famous desert.

After our tea...we headed into Petra...the modern town is quite sprawling...a million people visit Petra a year...so a whole tourist trade has evolved in this barren spot....hotels...restaurants...shops.

We finally reached the front entrance to the park...and prepared for the walk.  It was around 90 degrees...which felt cool after Eilat.  The guides warned us....it was about a mile walk to the Sanctuary..all going downhill...but you had to return the same way...so pace yourself.

My hub was playing mule...so we filled his backpack with water jugs and camera equipment.  I was excited to walk down into the canyons...at 10am....there were deep cool shadows which felt like wondrous gift from the gods.

When I finally saw the Sanctuary...I just stopped walking.  The scene in front of me was like every National Geographic picture I had ever looked at on Petra.  I don't know why...but I got misty eyed.  I was here...this was real.  I touched the canyon wall...just to make sure.....and started walking again...

As soon as you leave the narrow canyon...you enter an open area....and the Sanctuary is in front of you....and wow....it was like walking into a sunny oven.  As if posing for pictures, two camels managed to drift away from their riders and sat in the middle of the square....so every tourist that day....got a few camels in the foreground of their picture.

I was thirsty by now...and wanted something else than our hot water...so I entered a stall across from the Sanctuary...where a kitty cat rubbed itself on my legs...looking for a handout.  There was glass display stand with Cokes inside and I went over to pick a cold soda out.  Well...the soda was cold...sort of....but I wondered why it was so lukewarm....then I realized the case was not plugged in.... although it was a traditional two door glass display stand for cokes....ice bags were sitting at the bottom of the case and a few along the side.  Apparently, there wasn't any electricity in the area....but it was sort of strange to have these electrically dependent cases there.  I noticed they were many of these soda display stands in the vendor stalls...and each one had ice hidden somewhere inside.

We walked around the corner and I was surprised to see how much of Petra was beyond the square we entered...the Sanctuary was probably a tomb...and around the corner from the Sanctuary...there were lots of tombs carved into the hillside....an amphitheater and a hill which was all rubble.  Apparently, the remains of the houses and this ancient city are under the rubble...and I'm not sure if there is anything to excavate or if they will do that some time in the future.  Hub wanted to see one of the tombs on a cliff so we slowly in the hot sun....climbed up....I don't know ...a thousand steps?  Well...of course it wasn't a thousand...it felt like a thousand...it was probably 300.  After we entered the tomb, I was glad we came...the sandstone walls were colored as if in a sand bottle and it was dark and much cooler.  I reluctantly realized I had to leave and walk down those 300 steps...past stalls of trinket sellers ....who just sat lazily in the shade of their canopies fanning themselves.  They look to hot to sell and I was too hot to even look.

Back out in the open....it was hot. hot . hot. hot.  The sun was directly overhead...and I was losing interest in my surroundings.  All I wanted to do was find shade.  We started back to meet our group at the gates and I'll be honest and tell you the walk back was miserable...MISERABLE.  Up hill....the sun now bearing down into the canyon...no place to hide...hot water to drink.  There were camels and donkeys and horses and carts you could pay to take you back up...but perhaps we were delirious...or crazy or both....because we kept on walking.  

At one point, I was absolutely sure the trail would never end.  I kept stopping every 20 feet....I know my fair skin was beet red...and I was breathing hard. I was going to die in Jordan....ironically in the desert ...a place I usually loved.  The  sun...the intense sun....in a cloudless desert sky....and the heat radiating off the rocks...was doing me in.

I consider it a miracle....that I staggered to the restaurant where our group decided to rendezvous. A Miracle.  Our drivers scooped us and took us to a very nice restaurant to eat...but the last thing I wanted was food.  I think I drink a gallon of water...some sodas...and I was done.

It was now about 4pm as we were driving back to the Israeli border....everyone was falling asleep in the van.  My hub was sitting up front and I had volunteered to sit in the back of the van on the seat for three.  The young American woman next to me..kept falling asleep and resting her head on my shoulder. Fortunately, we had the AC vents turned on us...so it wasn't too uncomfortable. I leaned on the glass....occasionally I lifted my head and looked out into the desert to see bit and pieces of the Wadi Rum go by on the opposite side of the van.  I mentally waved.

Our little group walked the barbed wired gauntlet back to the Israeli border where the cheerful British woman was waiting for us.  "Get something to drink" she ordered when she looked at us....and we did.  Then bobbed along in another van to our hotel.

When I entered our hotel room....I simply stripped my clothes off....cranked up the AC ....and fell back into the soft crisp white sheets of our bed.

I did not move for hours.


More Favorite Pictures from Petra

 When you round the famous "Sanctuary"...it's surprising to find so many other temples and caves to look at.  There's even an amphitheater and stairs...ancient stairs that go up the side of the mountain to????

 What's inside the temples?  Beautiful multicolored sandstone..the black is not in the rock but from fires/torches that have been thrust inside these buildings to look around.  As per usual, one of the temples was used as a church for a while...but it's now empty.

Petra Kitty.....I sat down on the elevated wood floor of one of the market stalls and along comes Petra Kitty.  Skinny skinny scrawny little thing.  All I had on me was a granola bar....and I broke off a piece and gave it to her.  No questions asked...she gulped it right down.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

From the Desert to the Resort

It made my head spin....we were driving in the desert and then suddenly we're in a resort town hugging the bottom end inlet of the Red Sea.  Buildings and hotels all over....and blue blue cool-looking water in front of you.

I would have bet it was a mirage.

We were staying at the Queen of Sheba...a nice hotel clumped with several others near the water.  It had a huge pool and I was puzzled why there were so many people in it and so few in the sea.  Figured out later it's because the small strip of beach in front of the hotels is public property...you can go into the water and sit on the sand...(which feels like 1000 degrees) but if you want a chair or lounge chair with an umbrella ....you must pay the city about 10.00 bucks per day per chair....which is why so many people preferred the pool.

I wasn't ready to go in the water....but hub and I wanted to walk around a little and we had spotted an Aroma Cafe near the hotel...and our minds were mentally chanting "Iced Coffee  Get Iced Coffee."

We walked out the hotel lobby doors and I stopped dead in my tracks and looked around.....good lord had we stepped into a gigantic oven?  

We hit such an intense hot wall of heat....I almost stepped back into the lobby.  Dry heat or not....this was miserable.

Hub and I forged on....deciding to round the block before we treated ourselves to the Iced Coffee.  We were making the circle when suddenly my hub tugged on my arm.  "Ah...I don't feel good."

Holy Shit....I looked at him and all my nurse alarm bells started ringing.  He looked pale...and woozy.  Shit could he be dehydrated and sliding into heat stroke? 

I grabbed him by the arm and looked around and there was a big hotel right next to us.  

"In here," I said...tugging at him.  He didn't look good...and then as we neared the front door the guard for the hotel (all the hotels have armed guards in front of their doors) said..."Is this your hotel?"  Dumb me...I said "No."

"Well you can't come in here."  I looked at him and said..."My hub is going to keel over so we have to get inside."

He stepped aside and we scrambled to a seat in the cool lobby.  A minute later the guard came up to us and said very kindly...."there's a bar on the second floor for cold drinks."

I pulled on hub and stuffed him into the elevator.  He didn't look good even after resting in the cool air.  I literally ran up to the bar and ordered two cokes with ice....grabbed them and rushed back to the chair where I left him.

"Drink drink." 

 I was mentally thinking....okay this is Israel they have a good health system...I know there is a small hospital in this town....they probably have ambulances....and I can always take the ice out of the glass and directly apply it to his neck and chest while we wait for the paramedics.

Fortunately....he started to perk up....and my own heart rate started to go down too....I realized I was pretty damn hot too....but you forget yourself when your spouse turns pale.  

After a bit more sitting and the second cola....he said he could walk and move....and I ushered him out of this hotel and into our hotel about 1/2 block down.  I turned the AC up to max max when we hit our room....grabbed some money...and told him to rest while I went to the market to get another soda (for the sugar content ) and some bottled water since it was obvious we could not leave the hotel without a drink in hand.

I hit the exit doors.....and braced myself as a hot 114 degree wind pushed me. I mentally told myself I was hydrated....I would walk slowly and I would make it to the market two blocks down....but even with mental optimism...I was stunned how painful and intense the heat felt.

As I walked slowly to the market...I started worrying....how could we make it to Petra the next day?  How were we going to walk a mile or two in the heat...to get to the site?  Should we cancel?  Should we just hunker down in our rooms or in the Sea?

I was feeling woozy with heat and worry.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Negev

The Negev.

For a thousand reasons, I wanted to go into the Negev.  The DNA test which shows I have links to the Bedouins,  my love of deserts, the beauty, the emptiness, the ability to see and be in a place that has been important to human civilization for thousands of years.   The crossroads for Abraham...Isaac....the Nabataens....the Egyptians...Phoenicians...Bedouin....Moabites....names from history and the Bible all mixed up together in this sand.

And yet I was disappointed....not by the desert but by my time there.  

Hub and I rose early and watched the sun rise. From our balcony, we could see little specks of people dutifully head out to the Dead Sea and start bobbing in the water. Our guide was there in the lobby, right on time, and off we went into the desert.

But the van/car arrangements had me sitting in the back seat and feeling more like a kid looking into a candy shop. The vastness of the desert and the distance we needed to cross meant there were stops....but really only pauses in the desert....not time enough to let this particular experience really settle into your soul.

It's one thing to BE in the desert and another thing to drive through the desert on a divided two lane highway.  I knew beforehand we would be taking regular roads....but still sometimes I just felt my heart sink as I saw and off-road track...or thought of camping or sitting quietly for hours.

The Negev is a beautiful desert...it has more texture than the parts of the soft Sahara I traveled through....it also has more industry...more military ...more human presence than the desert in Niger.  

I knew all that too...from studying Google maps....and reading tourist blogs about southern Israel.....yet when the reality was out my window....I still felt a bit disappointed. I was hemmed in....and not free. But...that was the price of seeing the desert....time constraints...political constraints...safety...all made this a passing through the desert for a trek into the desert.

I had hoped to find some mysterious connection to the Negev....but I didn't...in fact....it made me wonder if my DNA tests were wrong...not about the desert and the Bedouins...but if I had the wrong desert and Bedouins...for as soon as I saw the Red Mountains of Jordan....I felt my heart leap.

Yes....that's illogical....perhaps I'm just drawn to certain desert landscapes...and those landscapes contain sand and jagged rocks....which is how the Red Mountains appeared in the distance from my backseat view and exactly how the Air Mountains felt in Niger.  

In the end....I slightly chickened-out in the Negev...I had read on my Ipad the night before we headed into the desert.... that someone had loped a couple missiles from the Sinai into the part of the Negev we were driving in.  Our guide asked if I wanted to take the road along the Egyptian border to Eilat or the regular highway.  Surprisingly I didn't tell him to drive along the Egyptian border...I told him to take the highway...which seemed to disappoint him and certainly disappointed me.  

But I had no desire for the type of adventure that involves missiles ...I did not want to feel fear of the desert. So we traveled the more civilized path.  Perhaps at that point, I knew I couldn't get into the desert physically or mentally so why push it?

I'm glad I went through the Negev....I'm glad I saw it.

And then we were suddenly surrounded by hotels and condos and businesses....we were at the end of the highway.....and in the resort town of Eilat...which hugs the shores of the Red Sea.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Dead Sea is very Dead.

Sunday morning arrives and it's time to leave Jerusalem.  Our guide, Dan, who will be driving us to Masada, the Dead Sea and through the Negev desert is supposed to meet us in the lobby of the hotel.  Trouble is, I don't know what he looks like or how old he is.  From his voice mail message to us on the hotel phone, I'm guessing he's older (50's?)...just because of a little wobble in his voice. 

There's tons of people in the lobby of the hotel this morning...and I  point to an older man who is mostly bald, has a big dangley earring in one ear and is wearing his belt buckle off to the side of his pants.  "That's probably our guide," I jokingly say to my husband.  Of course...he is. 

Dan had a lot to say from the minute we entered the van till we exited his van two days later.  He was unafraid to give us his opinions on politics, Arabs-Israeli relations and the United States.  Dan was been born in Israel and I'd guess he was 64ish.  Although he said he was one of the managers of our tour company, he also grew olives so he knew quite a bit about agriculture/farming in this part of the world and obviously had served a stint in the army too.

Dan wants us to stop at the Mount of Olives, the tallest point in Jerusalem, so we can see the Wall and the Golden Dome of the great Mosque, from a different angle.  It's a beautiful sight and the parking lot is already filled with drama because someone has brought a camel to this parking lot and a group of Japanese tourists are waiting in line for a 30 second ride on a camel.  Their whole group (I'm thinking 30 folks) must be armed with at least 300 cameras....which click all at the same time as one of their members mounts the lone camel.

Several men come over to greet Dan....he switches his language to Arabic..."Just cousins" he said with a laugh.  I don't know what he means...but it's obvious he has a good relationship with some of the bus drivers of other tours.  "Let's move along," he says..."I want to stop at a kibbutz outside of Masada."  I'm not sure if there's something for us to see or if he has business there and we're just tagging along.

Surprisingly, on the other side of Jerusalem...in just a few minutes you are out into the desert.  There are Bedouin camped far back from the road in tents and sheds made of sheet metal.  "They like to live like that," Dan says..."They don't like the cities....it's not in their blood."  He is probably right about this...as I've read articles about the Israeli government building houses for the Bedouin and finding the people dislike them and abandon them.  

Makes more sense, in a way, to let the Bedouin decide where they want to live and accommodate them.  Dan also mentions that the Bedouin are disappearing...that there aren't too many generations left to live out in the wild. Bedouins by their very culture ...roam...but because of politics...boundaries and political realities .....they can not move freely over the landscape like they had for thousands of years.  Bedouins must belong...and they have to belong to one country or another...must have ID papers....must respect borders that are foreign to them.

Very soon we come to an oasis...apparently it's a kibbutz outside of the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.  The reserve is huge...about 6000 acres and it shelters a variety of wild life and fauna because of 4 springs which irrigate the area.  This kibbutz is growing lots of date palms and Dan points out how they are genetically making the date palms smaller so they don't have to use such large and expensive equipment on the trees.  As soon as a date palm sprouts dates at the crown, they must be bagged...with mesh...or else all sorts of birds and bats eat the fruit.  Long ago, guys would climb up the trees to put protective covers on the dates....then came cherry pickers ...and now with smaller date palms...I think they only need a ladder?

Of course with our cameras still packed away, we see a small herd of Nubian Ibex and then there's a bunch of these furry guys hugging a drainage pipe.  In fact, there's a whole crowd of furry creatures hugging the pipes in the shade.  Dan tells us these are Syrian Hyrax, which look to me like fat woodchucks, and they hug the pipes throughout the day to cool off.  Most of them look like they are hanging on for dear life...and maybe they are...because when I step out of the van....I want to return to the comfort of the van in about two minutes.

It's only a short trip down the road and we turn into a almost deserted stretch of highway that leads to Masada.  There's a bunch of palm trees in the parking lot  (click on pic to enlarge) but they are pitiful against the sun and temperatures of 105.  The National Park has closed the hiking trail up to Masada because of the heat danger but I can't imagine why anyone in the middle of the day would even consider attempting a 4 hour hike uphill.  Dan informs us that people try to hike all the time...even in blistering temperatures.   He says quite definitively, "You can not carry as much water as your body needs on a day like today up this hill."  I see no reason to disagree with him.

I don't like heights and I've been a bit worried about taking the aerial tram from the base of the visitor center to the top of Masada...but for some reason ...I get in the tram....I'm alright and I'm surprised I am alright.  

We arrive at the plateau of Masada and as soon as you start walking around....your mind fogs...the same kind of historical fog I felt in Herod's courtyard in Jerusalem......because this is the site of a famous Roman/Israelite confrontation about 2000 years ago. 

 Jews from Jerusalem have fled to the top of this plateau after the Romans destroy the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.  They harass the Romans from the safety of this plateau and so the Roman Emperor tells his troops to capture these rebels.  Herod built a house and fortifications on this plateau long before the Romans caused this trouble so the rebels know there are deep cisterns which hold large amounts of water and storage areas on the top of the plateau to hold food.  So the rebels prepare to outlast the Romans.

The Romans, using slave labor, took three years to create an embankment on the back side of Masada from which they could launch an attack on the rebels who had lived on top of the plateau.  In the end, the Romans attack the plateau but the rebels at the last minute commit suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.  So the Romans waited and occupied the base of Masada for three years and in the end had no prisoners or gains to show the Roman Emperor. 

Interesting story.  Interesting how anybody could live on this plateau....you feel so high and isolated...in its own way it feels to me like you're living in a prison.  The top is 1.5 miles across so it's not a small plateau but when  you think of a couple hundred people living in this one mile of land ....never being able to get off....it feels claustrophobic.  I was actually happy to get into the tram going back down to the visitor center. Dan points out the earthquake and seismic activity sensors built in the wall by the tram....yep earthquakes happen here...which is just the information you want to know when you step into a tram hanging on a steel cable connect to towers that might shake.

At the visitor center, we were hungry and thirsty and turn a corner and there's a McDonalds???  Yes...at the visitor center in Masada there's a couple of food vendors and one of them is McDonald's. 

 Dan encouraged us to get a burger because the beef is Kosher..."it tastes better" ...he said...but I pass...and instead get an Aroma Cafe Iced Coffee....a highly addictive drink...which is frosty, gives me eye pain/brain freeze...but feeelsssss sooo goood going down.

After our very late lunch, it's time to head to our hotel and the Dead Sea.  It's not too far down the road.  Off to side....you can see the Dead Sea which in the late afternoon is a striking blue-green against the desert background.

We check in and Dan warns us not to drink the water at the hotel because the faucet water is salty and not for drinking.  It's a strange arrangement....and there are signs posted in the bathroom not to drink or use the water for personal hygiene.  If you want to brush your teeth or have a glass of water....you  trudge down the hall with a glass bottle to get water from a spigot in the utility room.

It's now about 4:30 pm and hub and I put our bathing suits on and trudge down to the Sea.  The sand is a thousand degrees hot even with sandals on.  We claim a couple of chairs with umbrellas and head off to the Sea.

There's a slight salty hot smell in the air.... the water close to the beach is bathtub warm.  It's strange to enter the water and feel warm instead of cool.  It's more like a hot tub.  I wade out from the beach till the water is waist high.....and try to bob down so my shoulders and neck will be wet.  

That is....I try to bob down....I mean I try...really try and the water is like magic and you can not bob down...it literally throws you forward or backwards.  At first, I almost lost my footing and plunged forward...but I tipped myself back and ended up floating on my back.  I never float on my back....but there is no effort involved .....you simply lie back and your feet spring up and there you are floating.  It's very Bizarre.  I didn't stay float on my back for long because the sun is still beating down on me in the hot water and it's making me feel a little sick...like over-heated sick.

I manage to get my feet on the sand....and turn my back to the sun.  My skin feels weird.  Have you ever poured regular chlorine bleach on your hands?  And you skin becomes weirdly smooth..???
That's how your skin feels that's been in the Sea.  

I decide to get out of the water... shower off....and head to my chair to dry off.  Hub felt weird too...and his skin felt the same way....so this must be the rejuvenating effect of the water.  We dried off and decided to try the Sea one more time.  I was ready this time...and didn't try bobbing...just splashed water on my torso.  There's no way you could dive in or swim underwater....so I figured splashing was the way to go.  It was still difficult to stay in the water....hot sun...hot water...hot smell.  So hub and I got out again after about 15 minutes and restes.  My skin, when dry, was a soft as a baby's ass.  I could not believe how smooth it was....I totally understand why some people want to be here...for skin reasons...but I'm not sure if I could tolerate the Sea for more than a dunk or two. I certainly couldn't imagine staying here for a week or two just for the water...but the Sea helps some people who suffer from skin diseases so I'm sure if this was the cure ...I would take it.

Our hotel room was on the 15th floor...so after we came back to our room....we sat on the balcony for a while and watched the slow parade of tourists make their way to Sea.  

Our beach below did not have mud....the famous mud people smear on their bodies at the Dead Sea.  I was okay with that....I wasn't sure I wanted to smear hot mud on myself at this point...and I guess the nurse is me would want to know what's in the mud and where has it been and who has done what to it...before applying it to my skin. So I was happy to have smooth skin from just the Sea sans mud...and very happy to be out of the Dead Sea.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Our Last Days in Jerusalem

Our last two days in Jerusalem were both restful and busy.  Hub woke up with a cold on Friday....which was the best possible day for an illness since most stores and attractions closed at 2pm in order to allow people to get ready for the Sabbath.  We decided to sleep in, have breakfast and do only one thing: visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We had promised a friend of ours, whose wife we knew and loved, to light a candle for her in this church.  

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is rather a strange mish-mash of structures and additions housed in a basilica and located in a crowded courtyard in the Christian quarter of the Old City. It is supposed to be built on Golgotha-the hill were the crucifixion took place and it's supposed to contain the tomb where Christ was laid to rest after his crucifixion.

The Church is operated by several Christian sects but a predominate owner of the building has been the Orthodox Christian Church.  The sects have warred for years over this church and there are You Tube videos and pictures in newspapers of different groups of priests pummeling/duking it out inside the church at various times.

 If I understand correctly, each denomination has certain times to use certain places and you better mind your timelines.  Apparently these disagreements have been in place for so long...the key to the church was entrusted to a Muslim family because neither Christian group trusted the other with the key.  I've heard that custom just recently ended.

Inside the church there are numerous stairways and chapels and additions plus this:  this little building held up by steel support beams.  It's called the Aedicule and this is the place where the tomb of Christ is supposed to be.  

The chapel is pretty shaky due to earthquake damage and it looks like it's going to fall over.  It's rather interesting that this holy of holy places for Christians... the chapel which holds the tomb of Christ....is held together by some rusty rather unsightly beams.

 Somehow, especially if you have ever seen pictures of the Vatican, one might presume that this very holy spot might be more scenic?  pretty?  That religious authorities would have figured out a way to preserve this very old chapel with something a little nicer than rusty beams?

 People wait in line to visit inner sanctum of the Aedicule.

The area is roped off....and there's a priest or two who stand in front of the entrance and allow a few people into a the chapel at one time. You have to crawl though one doorway...stand up and then crawl into another doorway...and then you are inside a room the size of a closet with old marble and walls in shiny gold.

I know what it looks like because I went inside.  The church is huge and despite looking all around....I couldn't find a place to light a candle.  The small chapels didn't have candles and there were no candle stands.  But....there was a priest on the other side of the Aedicule selling candles so I thought that there might be candles to light in the inner chamber of the tomb..... so I said to my hub....I'm going in there.  We waited in line....it was hot and stuffy and people were pressed rather closely together....and waited our turn for the priest to wave us in (he did so after he finished chewing a treat he held in his hand.)   

I must say I was stunned.  I crawled through one opening then another and suddenly I was in this tiny tiny room.  This picture does not do the room justice...because the room is dark...the only light is from the candles which dance and reflect off golden walls. When I walked in there was a woman completely draped over the marble slab praying loudly.  The man she was with had to pry her off the top of the slab when the priest in the inner sanctum motioned that it was time for them to leave.

There is only one entrance and exit into this area...and perhaps three people can fit inside at the same time.



Once I got inside, I just stood there ...with my mouth open.  It was so....gold and small and disorienting and there were a thousand silver and gold incense lamps hanging above my head.

The inner sanctuary priest grunted or said something which meant my time was up....but I was still on a mission and so I flattened myself up against the back wall and didn't leave.

There was a pause between the incoming and outgoing people.... and I jumped toward the urn and found there were two unlighted candles there. I grabbed a candlestick lit it and placed it in the sand.  

 "Here's for you Beatrice."  Beatrice was an extraordinary French woman of good taste and I chuckled all the way out the doorways thinking.....how she would have been pleased at the spot I found for her....the best in the Church.

We strolled around the church and there were some very cool things we discovered.....some crosses etched into a stairway heading down to the basement that were etched in the wall by the crusaders...a wondrous opening in the ceiling which lets the daylight in..and the omphalos.

I had no idea what an omphalos was....but we saw people kneeling by it and taking pictures.  I took a picture too....then researched it back in our hotel room to find....that in Greek Orthodox tradition....the omphalos marks the center of the world.  So folks were taking pictures next to it because it represented the center of the Christian world.

I'll add my pictures now....click on "Older Posts" to see them.