Ancient History and Current Realities

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Even our faithful readers may be getting a little overloaded with descriptions of breakfast buffets but, please indulge us one more time, because this is really over the top.

We went down for breakfast (same hotel) and the room where it was set up yesterday was empty. Hmmmm.....what's going on? We asked one of the wait staff if breakfast was available and she said yes, showed us to a table, and asked what we would like. Wendy requested an egg white omelet and OJ, and Wayne some toast and lemonade (because they serve it here from locally grown lemons and it is delicious).  A few minutes later, this is what they brought to our table....
 .....our very own breakfast-buffet-for-two! And THEN they brought the omelet and 3 croissants!!!!!!!!!!!!  Beyond the beyond. Needless to say, there was a lot left over.

Wendy had asked Yuval if there would be any opportunity to learn Israeli folk dancing and he replied that she was in luck. Apparently, he is in the process of creating a YouTube sensation of place-appropriate Israeli folk songs with dancing in 100 hotel rooms across the country.  He couldn't resist teaching her the melody and choreography to  El Yivenei Hagalil in our hotel room! Watch for it soon on YouTube--or a personal demonstration before then.

Today's first stop was back to Safed to check out the art galleries and other shops. Along the way we came upon one that made t-shirts....for all the American sports teams! Wayne had to get this one (his usual trip souvenir). 
Yes...the Hebrew "says" Chicago Cubs too!

Here are some daytime pics to give you an idea of how the town looks:

Heading into and out of Safed, we ran into some major fog. It enhanced the mysticism of the town and the adventure of our drive.  This would definitely hamper our plan for today of stopping at various viewing points.

We had a quick stop and a few delicious sips at the Dalton Winery and then continued until we finally saw the Sea of Galilee from outside Tiberius. This is where most of Israel's water comes from, though they are ramping up their desalinization plants to get more of it from the sea.

Another short drive brought us to the Mount of Beatitudes, the site of Jesus's sermon on the Mount. As we understand it, these seven blessings are a quintessential component of Jesus's teachings. Unfortunately, the grounds were closed when we arrived, so we were only able to look and snap pics through the iron fence. This is the current Roman Catholic Franciscan chapel on the site, which was built in 1937-38.

When we asked Yuval if we could drive through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, he and Muhammed were happy to oblige.  This meant our route took us through the West Bank, seeing that Jericho is in Area C--completely controlled by the Palestinian Authority--which yielded many questions about the ethical and moral issues surrounding the situation.  For a full write up of Wendy's experience visiting several cities in the West Bank, along with her overall impressions on the human rights implications of the conflict click here.  In short, she was reminded driving though the West Bank today that you cannot spend any time in Israel without having the conflict stare you in the face.  So sad.

Back to Jericho.  It has been designated as the "world's oldest city", and here is the proof!

There were several periods of hundreds of years each when it was abandoned; that makes Damascus the world's oldest continuously inhabited city. We learned from Yuval that there is no basis in archeological fact for the "walls coming tumbling down" here. We had three stops in the town:  Hisham's Palace, the tell with evidence of a 10,000 year old residence, and a late lunch.

Hisham's Palace (no....not named for Hisham our guide in Morocco) was built by the Umayyad Dynasty sometime in the 8th century A.D. So it is a lot younger than Caesarea. That may explain why there are any more identifiable buildings among the ruins--but still, it is 1,200 years old.  

But what really makes this place special are (once again), the mosaics on the floors. Of course, these are not Roman mosaics as we have seen earlier.  

Look at the incredible detail in the variety of patterns. But the most amazing one is this "Tree of Life", which is about 4' by 5' in size:

Then we went to the tell (like in "Tel Aviv") that marks the actual original site of the town (according to the archaeologists). A tell is like a mound of history. It represents the accumulation of inhabitants and civilizations that physically built over the cities and ruins of previous ones (like we saw at Catalhoyuk in Turkey). One of the major finds in the digs here is this brick building, estimated to be over 10,000 years old, and possibly one of the first of its kind ever made.

They still don't know exactly what it was used for. A house of worship? Probably not, as this
pre-dates religion. A fortification? Probably not, as this pre-dates armaments. The best guess is that it may have been a silo, for this is where sustained agriculture was first practiced.

Finally, around 3:00, lunch at Limona in Jericho, another locals-oriented eatery.  Yuval had told us they had the best musakhan--a Palestinian specialty of a grilled half-chicken with carmelized red onions served on Taboun bread (like a big naan). 

We had tasted the dish before at our annual culture nights during our Hands of Peace summer program and it's always been good--today's rendition was extraordinary and we almost gobbled up every bite. The portions are gigantic here -- good thing we had decided to share one --  so no dinner for us tonight (sorry food photo fans!). And Wayne had beer actually brewed in Ramallah (also in the West Bank).

Wherever we travel, Wayne always takes a picture of the local license plates. Usually these are not blog-worthy, but this time it is. Here are the two types of plates used in Israel:

The first is the kind we have. It is allowed to go anywhere in Israel. The second can only be driven in the West Bank or in Gaza. It can not leave those areas and go into Israel proper. So even if the driver has the proper permit (of which there are 107 different kinds!) to cross through a checkpoint, the car must stay behind! Surprisingly, we have not seen any of the security measures (e.g., metal detectors at hotel entrances) that we have experienced in other countries.

At about 4:15, we pulled up to the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem for the iconic picture of the Old Jerusalem skyline (featuring the golden Dome of the Rock).  It was no less emotional nor breath-taking than when Wendy experienced it two years ago (though it was much colder!).  We took the iconic picture...

...then one in our Cubs gear:

And one of just the city itself:

We decided not to indulge in a camel ride at the Mount of Olives as Wendy had done that (we're turning into camel snobs), and we have a camel ride scheduled when we get to Jordan next week. So we headed over to the King David--our home away from home for the next five nights. 

The King David is the "grande dame" of Jerusalem hotels and Wendy has wanted to stay there her entire adult traveling life so we decided to splurge. And as a bonus, there were a dozen anniversary roses waiting for us when we got in the room!  Many, many famous people have stayed here--with photos and autographs everywhere you look. We checked in, relaxed a bit, then headed out for some high level exploring in the Mamilla Avenue mall (just outside the Jaffa Gate in the city wall); it's basically an upscale open-air shopping area (with all the same stores we have at home) but, good news--we found another Roladin bakery with sufganiyot so we will return tomorrow when we're hungry!

Shalom for now and love from Jerusalem,

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