Images by Phil... and June
Israel and Jordan - 2014
by June's Views on November 22nd, 2014

​Phil and I talked about visiting Israel for years, and 2014 was to be “the year”.  Then in the summer there was trouble and it looked like we should postpone our trip for awhile.  But after communicating with trusted local sources in the country and hearing from tourists there, we decided if nothing new developed we would leave as planned on September 30th.  We had a wonderful time!  Everyone we met worked to make certain we not only felt safe but were safe.  After a very long airplane ride from Austin, our trip began with a short trip from the airport to Tel Aviv where we spent two nights getting over jet lag and enjoying the beach and Old Joppa.  
​From Tel Aviv we traveled with a hired driver up the coast with a stop at Caesarea on our way to Haifa.

is a beautiful city.  We stayed at a hotel just off of the Louis Promenade with a wonderful view of the Baha’i Gardens and the port below.  

The gardens are very remarkable and lovely.  
​We visited other Haifa sights, such as Elijah’s Cave, the Stella Maris Lighthouse and rode the “shortest cable car ride in the world”.  We visited Mount Carmel where we thought about the prophet Elijah going to battle (and winning) with the prophets of Baal, had coffee and baklava at the Druze village of Deliat-el-Carmel….. and saw the art exhibit at the University of Haifa. 

We took a half-day trip to old Akko where we ate great food and visited the outstanding subterranean Crusader Fort.  After our visit we needed to get a taxi but all were full!  After many futile efforts we asked a young policeman to direct us to the bus station – we’ll just walk there and take a bus – but he said it was far and we should get in his car and he’d take us there.  That was so sweet of him!  

We experienced what it’s like to be in Israel during Yom Kippur…we got a lot of rest, ate fruit from our hotel and snacks we’d brought with us, and took long walks that day.     
​With another driver, we leave Haifa and stop at Nazareth on our way east to Tiberius.  The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth was our first experience with the swarm of people at a Christian site.  The church is lovely, surprisingly modern in design.  I especially enjoyed the exquisite mosaics from different countries depicting Madonna and Child.  The small grotto where the angel is said to have visited Mary and told her she would give birth to Jesus has been covered by this huge church.  I would have gotten so much more from the site if the church hadn’t been there, but this was just the beginning of traditional holy sites covered with churches.  After a quick walk to “Mary’s Well” we returned to our driver and on we went to Tiberius.  
​Nazareth to Tiberius is a lovely drive.  We reached the blue and sparkling Sea of Galilee (now known as Lake Kinneret).  There is so much to do in this area we stayed 8 days,  We hired a local driver, Rami David:  His price was reasonable and he was very anxious to provide us with a good experience. 
​With Rami we visited sites around the lake: Tabgha with its beautiful 4th century mosaics, the view from the Mount of Beatitudes, the remains of the ancient temple at Capernaum, and the Ginossar Kibbutz museum where we saw a 2,000 year-old boat.  

Rami drove us into the Golan Heights where we visited the Gamla National Park and learning about the history there; we also saw pre-historic burial places made of natural rock, called dolmans

We visited the beautiful Banias Waterfall and the stunning Nimrod Crusader Fortress.  
​To get a closer look at kibbutz life we took a half-day trip to Ein Gev, located lakeside across from Tiberius.  It’s a very welcoming place and seemed serene and laid-back.  There’s a nice restaurant, and a cute little tourist “train” that took us around the property:  We saw cows, sheep, acres of banana trees, fish ponds, and fields of hay.  
Our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee turned out to be more of a moving experience to me than I’d expected:  On the small boat I imagined Jesus on that body of water, fishing with his disciples…walking on water and calling to Peter to come to him…calming the storm…I felt very close to Him just then.  
​Our hotel was a favorite for tour groups.  Every morning at breakfast we saw groups of 10 to 30 folks eagerly getting ready for their day.  Every table had their country’s flag on it – a nice welcoming way of identifying where their group was to sit.  Near the end of our stay Phil jokingly asked the dining room manager “Where’s OUR flag? After all, we’re a group – of two!”  The manager left and reappeared with a smile and a U.S. flag and placed it on our table.  We all had a good laugh.  The next morning the flag was waiting for us when we arrived for breakfast.  
​Rami drove us to the Bet Shean National Park, where we walked through the ruins of a huge Roman/Byzantine era city.  We saw the best preserved Roman Theater in Israel and walked down the impressive colonnaded main street.   There was enough to hold our interest longer, but the day was hot and getting hotter and we were on our way to Jordan.  
​As we left Israel at the Jordan River Crossing, the passport agent questioned me at length about my trip to West Africa 5-months ago.  I wondered if she was going to have me quarantined!  But finally she decided I posed no health threat and we moved on.  Our entry into Jordan should have been almost seamless, but due to lack of ability to communicate properly and bad direction, it took us two hours to enter Jordan.
Our wonderful driver, Omran Brkawi, patiently waited for us while we dealt with the bureaucracy.  Once under his care we visited the fabulous Roman ruins at Jerash.  Ideally we wouldn’t have visited two sets of Roman ruins on the same day, but this is the schedule that worked.  The temperature was great and the temples, streets, ruins really are marvelous. 

There were almost no other tourists present, and we were able to poke around the huge complex in leisure and comfort.  
​Dinner that evening was on the terrace of the Artimas Restaurant, where we could look back at the huge Hadrian's Arch we had just visited.  Travel is wonderful!
The following day in Madaba we visited the St. George Church to get a look at the magnificent 6th century mosaic map on the floor, apparently the oldest original map of the Holy Land in existence.  We entered the church just minutes ahead of a tour group and were able to take our pictures without having to jockey for a good view.   

We continue south and stoped at a small museum to add our names to the Guinness Book of Record’s “largest mosaic in the world”.

We stopped for breathtaking views of Jordan along the King’s Highway.
​By nightfall we were at our goal:  Petra!
After a hearty breakfast at our hotel we walked the short distance to the park entrance.  In the cool morning air we continued and were awestruck at the high natural cliffs and man-made temples and carvings in the Siq.  Our excitement heightened as we got closer to the sight we were waiting for: the emergence of the building carved into the mountain called the Treasury!  We were not disappointed in the least.  The building is magnificent.  We sat and soaked it in for awhile.  By this time other tourists had arrived and we all shared in the experience together, taking each other’s photographs to prove to friends back home (and maybe ourselves) we’ve actually been there!     
There’s so much more to see than that one iconic structure.  We spent 7 hours in the park, looking at the various beautiful temples and tombs and other ancient archelogical beauty.  It is an amazing place. 
      If I had the trip to plan over again, I’d schedule a second day in Petra,  to go higher and deeper into the park the second day.  But we were very satisfied with our visit.
The following day we head for Aqaba, with a visit to Wadi Rum.  The natural beauty there is astounding and is certainly worth a half-day if you enjoy magnificent cliffs and out-croppings, deep valleys, great views, and trudging where T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) roamed.  We had tea at two Bedouin camps and met some friendly fellows who had just arrived from Saudi Arabia.  
​We spend a rather unremarkable night in Aqaba, mainly because we didn’t want to cross back into Israel late in the day – but rather in the morning and – we hoped – no stress.  The crossing couldn’t have been smoother, even though they decided to dismantle one of our suitcases, piece by piece.  I was carrying fresh fruit and thought “There goes the apples” but they didn’t comment or take anything – just left it to us to cram everything back into place.  
We spent two glorious nights in Eilat.  We’d been traveling for about 21 days now and were really in need of a serious rest.  We did have a low-key and interesting visit to the underwater observatory, and can highly recommend it.  Other than that I enjoyed visiting the hotel pool and setting on our terrace, looking at the lights of the city.  

We traveled by bus 4 ½ hours to Jerusalem.  We had comfortable reserved seats and the price was extremely reasonable.  The Negev, the large desert that makes up the southern part of Israel,  is beautiful and stark.  
​We thought Jerusalem would be the big enchilada of our trip – and we were not disappointed.  Our hotel was within easy walking to the Jaffa Gate.  We took three walking tours of the city to better orient ourselves and to hear the guide’s perspective on the sites. 

Beginning in Tel Aviv we saw many sights during our month-long trip where one event or another was supposed to have happened.  In many cases we realize the chances of that are slim to none.  There are some authentic places, and we were especially thrilled at Elisha’s Well, the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Olives, Ein Gedi and Mount Nebo.   We know that the prophets and Jesus DID walk this land, that Jesus was born, taught, died, and was resurrected here, and in the end it was enough for us to just be in the region where these things took place.  

We went to the Mount of Olives and drank in the view; walked the Via Delarosa culminating with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, visited the ruins of the City of David.  So much has been written about these places that I will not dwell on them here.  
I will mention a 2,000-plus year old cave tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, not far from the traditional sites.  This cave doesn’t get anything like the attention as the “traditional” place Christ’s body was placed after being removed from the cross…but to us this could be a very authentic spot and certainly gave us a more authentic experience than looking at the remains of what used to be a burial tomb.    
We visited the Shrine of the Book and saw some of the panels from the Dead Sea Scrolls (left) in the Israel Museum.

We went to the sobering and appalling, yet peaceful Holocaust Museum and Memorial; but we couldn’t stay long at the Children’s Memorial…it was just too sad.   

Other than the obvious must-see places, some other highlights in Jerusalem for us were: Having dinner with a Rabbi and his family, taking part in an archeological dig for a day, attending a chamber group concert, the Light Show at the Tower of David, and climbing down and wading through the water in Hezekiah’s Aqueduct.  

We spent time on the Temple Mount, gawking at one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in the world.     

​We spent a three days outside Jerusalem in Palestine and the West Bank visiting Bethlehem and Jericho, Qumran the Dead Sea, Masada and Ein Gedi.  We really enjoyed the peace and loveliness at Ein Gedi, and imagined David as he hid there from King Saul.   Which of the many caves did he sleep in?   Did he watch the Ibex and Rock Hyrax as we did…did he swim in the pools beneath the lovely waterfalls?   
​Our trip to Israel was more enlightening, exciting, and fulfilling than we'd hoped, with no disappointments other than wishing we’d spent one more day in both Jordan and Jerusalem.   Looking back on our pictures and reading my journal we are amazed at the fantastic trip we had.  We are thankful for our safety, the excellent weather, and the wonderful people we met who made the trip extraordinary!                                                                                                           
See Our Video of this Trip

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