Now I know that every tour probably plays this song as the bus enters the city, but it does stir a lot of emotion within..... You grow up learning about these ancient biblical places and you never would believe that you would ever visit them.
Our tour started very early down in Magnums as the Israeli officials decided they need to do face to face immigration. Sue a fellow cruise critic had organised our tour for Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. The company was Guided Tours Israel. We were a group of 30 and Sue had registered us with the purser’s desk so we could be called together and we waited over an hour and a half for our group to be called to the vista lounge....
Once that was done it was off to the bus where Michal (affectionately known as Micky) had been waiting for us since 6 am that morning.
She was a great Tour guide and basically called herself a westernised Jew. She was very informative with everything we saw and also in her beliefs and the situation within her country. She had a great sense of humour and was happy to take the “Mickey” out of everything and everyone around her.
The first thing we noticed as we drove out of the port of Ashdod was how green it was. There was a lot of farming and cultivation. She said that even though water is very scarce they continue to plant and cultivate to ensure that the land stays green and lush and the desert sands do not take over again..... When they talk about the green line it is not a line on a map but this green belt that divides the country.
As I mentioned before when we drove into Jerusalem she started to play the song “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” and I will tell you that there were a few lumps in throats whilst this music played.
She first took us to a lookout on Mt Zion so we could see the whole of the old walled city. Here she gave us a great perspective of where everything was before she took us into the city.
We then moved back to the bus and we were taken into the city. We entered the old city through the Jaffa gate. We were given the instructions that we are to keep together and if we wanted to shop we had to have enough money for a taxi back to ship as we would end up loosing the group. This was ok but we did feel a little rushed as we raced through the city. A lot of the tour found it a little hard to keep up with her and if you were not right up there with her you missed the explanations of some of the places we visited.... Maybe if things were planned a little differently (such spending our lunch time there) we could have had an opportunity to soak up more of the atmosphere and have a little free time to browse some of the shops.
Within the city walls there is a maze of lane ways which you had to keep your wits about you to keep up with the group as there are many sudden turns left and right. We worked our way through the Christian Quarter until we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church contains a number of chapel’s representing many Christian sects such as the Greeks, Latins, Copts, Armenians, Syrians and Ethiopians.
We were so lucky that when we entered the church it wasn’t crowded at all unlike the previous day when there were over 5000 in that area.. We were able to climb up to the Chapel of the Cross where you could touch the rock on which Jesus was crucified. Mum I even manage to light a couple of candles for our family. Back down stairs you could see the Stone of Anointing, where his body was prepared for burial. But best of all we were able to enter the chapel over the Tomb of Christ with no waiting in queues. The Original tomb was demolished in the 11th century when some queen decided she wanted to build something bigger and better..... but the experience is still so moving and as I said before it really brings to life all those stories you were taught and movies you have seen about Christ and his life.
Once again we were weaving our way through the cobble streets some original, some build over the top of the older city but there are open wells you can look down and see the remains. We were racing towards the Western Wall.... (nicked name the wailing wall by the Arabs who would always see the Jewish constantly praying and crying there) . The reason the jewish chose this spot was because after the Muslims built their mosque on the mount ( the holiest of holy also known as the Dome of the Rock ) the western Wall was the closest point that they were allowed to be as non muslims are not allowed in the mosque. So it is here they come to pray. They have one side for the women and a larger section for the men. You will also see little pieces of paper with prayers and requests to god tucked into the cracks of the wall.
Then we were off again into the Arab quarter... you could really tell the difference in areas as I would have to say it wasn’t as nice and clean as the Christian and Jewish quarters. Here we walked down along part of the Via Dolorosa “the Sorrowful Way” where Jesus was made to drag the cross he was crucified on .
We continued on and once through St Stephens Gate we found ourselves outside the city walls. While waiting at the traffic lights I took the opportunity to duck into St Stephens Orthodox church and light another candle... We then walked down to the Church of all Nations which is situated right at the Garden of the Gethsemane where Jesus was praying when he was arrested. Here we saw olive trees that were centuries old.
Back on the bus we were coasting our way down to the Dead Sea for an afternoon swim or should I say float. As we drove along you saw markers indicating the sea level...... Once we saw the 0 sea level sign we drove down and down and down until we reached the lowest point on earth, 389m below sea level. We stopped at what seemed like to us a road side diner for lunch and with a bit on confusion on what was on offer we finally had something to eat. There was also souvenirs and lots of Dead Sea Mud products for sale.
We finally made it down to the beach and we donned our cosies and in we went. We were told to take it slow and be careful not to put our faces or open our eyes under water as the salt level was so high.
When a little splashed around my lips you certainly knew what they meant it tasted terrible and my lips stung... God help you if you shaved your legs that morning cause that also stung like crazy.... In some places there was sand mixed with the mud underfoot which gave you something solid to stand on but in other places it was just mud so it was really slippery and once you slipped it was shut the eyes and keep the mouth tightly shut... We were told to grab this mud and rub it all over your body as the minerals in the mud have great healing properties and left your skin feeling really smooth. Mickey suggested that we should not shower after getting out and to leave the salts and minerals on you until we returned to the ship.... but the salt tightened your skin and burned more if you were in sun, so we showered.... now she also said that we didn’t need sun screen being down so low but we didn’t take the chance.
It was an amazing experience just floating in this water.... we took a copy of the princess patter along with our water proof camera and snapped everyone floating whilst reading... we found it really difficult to get yourself upright again because of the buoyancy .... Poor Dennis our best floating reader.... had a terrible time getting up right again, mix that with the slippery mud he ended up face down.... We had to get him out of the water quick smart and the lifeguards had fresh water at hand to wash the water off his face and eyes.... Walking out was also difficult due to the slipperiness and the uneven ground... it would be nothing to walk along and suddenly find yourself stepping into a 2 foot hole... I think they are caused by people digging out the mud to cover themselves..... They say that the Dead Sea is receding 1 metre each year..... Don’t think it is natural... just everyone digging up the mud and then you have those who are re selling it...LOL....
Mickey told lots of stories during the day and gave us lots of information whilst on the bus.... she told one about her parents joining her on one of her tours... They were very good during the tour, but on the drive back at the end of the day her mother puts her hand up to ask a question.... “Are you going to keep talking on the way back” ..... Mickey replies “No “ and wondered why she would ask such a question ...... her mother says “Good.... cause we all want to sleep” and with that she sat down and let us enjoy our trip home....
We did have one detour.... we stopped at a supermarket.... Why you ask.... because we are allowed one bottle of wine or a six pack of beer each LOL....... The super market wouldn’t take our US $ only credit cards and checked out bags for bombs before we all converged in there.... After sussing out how many of our friends weren’t buying alcohol and seconding them to carry our excess we manage to buy 4 bottles of Israeli sauvignon Blanc.
One last story before we reached the ship.....
Two Jewish men die and go to heaven ... one is a holy rabbi and the other is a bus driver...... They say for the good you do on earth defines what you get in heaven.... The rabbi arrives and is given a modest home.... the bus driver arrives and it given a beautiful condominium with wonderful views.
The incensed rabbi goes to the arch angel and asks “why is this so “
The Arch Angel replies..... When people come to your church (hmm or should I say synagogue) instead of praying they fall asleep..... When people ride on the drivers bus they all Pray!! Boom boom....
With that she thanked our driver for looking after us so well that day...
We have our sail a ways down pat now.... up on deck 14 in front of the grill.... drag 3 tables together and we all gather.... Champagne is ordered and now we know how to use our charm on the right people and we have plates of fresh hot chips delivered from the Kitchen!!