Thursday, January 5

On the way to Jerusalem

One of the highlights of the trip for us was the opportunities we took to talk with locals. We spent an hour talking with Yuval who runs the Bar Bakfar moshav. So fascinating! We wished we'd planned more time for that into our stay there. I've started writing up our conversation and may get to posting it later.

But for now, I'll stick to reporting on the sights and sites of the day. We drove south from the Galilee to Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea. What an interesting drive! We began in the lush Galilee valleys surrounded by banana trees, greenhouses of every size, and flowers. Green, very very green. When we'd arrived a few days earlier we'd been in a downpour and the land just soaks it up. I kept telling Ryan how he was getting a special visit with all this flora.

But within an hour driving south, the green was gone! Here’s some of the sights we enjoyed on our way.

A shepherd with his herd of goats and sheep.

The border fence looking toward Jordan. We passed many bus stops that seemed like they were in the middle of nowhere but there was often a few IDF soldiers waiting for a bus. In the middle of nowhere! It was just odd.

We had to turn around and snap some pics when we came upon a camel herder on his white pony leading at least two dozen camels!

This one was waiting for a tourist to go for a ride at a gas station. We saw this sort of thing at quite a few gas stations along the road skirting the Dead Sea. After driving about two hours, we arrived at Qumran National Park. Can ya see the caves in the mountain side?

The Dead Sea and the Qumran Visitor's Center. No more green down here!

In 1947 a young Bedouin boy was searching up here for a stray goat. He threw a rock into one of the cliffside caves thinking the goat may have climbed inside but instead of bleating, he heard jars shattering. He climbed up to the cave and was disappointed to find old parchment, not hidden treasure. Bedouin family members took some of the parchment to a shop in Bethlehem to see if it could sell and a Hebrew University antiquities professor happened to be looking around in the shop. He hit the jackpot and bought as much as he could. Long story short, these bits of parchment have come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls and are the oldest original portions of the Bible, Apocrypha, and some Talmudic writings from the meridian of time.

Next we headed down to Ein Gedi Beach to let Ryan float on the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The Dead Sea is so salty you are super buoyant. It was so fun to see Ryan giddy happy! It's wild being that buoyant! I had no desire to do it again after my BYU experience because of how gritty it makes you feel and I would have taken too long washing up afterward for what we wanted to do that day still.

Getting in and out of that water was another story! Big waves and a current slams you into jagged evaporated salt encrusted rocks along the shore. It was a serious challenge. Ryan cut his hands and got a gash on the side of his foot. Talk about pouring salt in your wounds! OUCH!

By now it was 2:30 and we didn’t have time to make it to Masada that day so we headed to our hotel in East Jerusalem, just off Salah Din Street and 10 minutes walk to the Old City. Stepping out of the car the smell of the city washed over me. It’s so exciting to be back here! While settling in to our hotel, Ryan and Jake got some cute face time. Jake loves to squeal in response to Ryan talking to him – it’s adorable!

We headed in to the Old City through Damascus Gate and on through to the Western Wall. It was fun to walk that maze of streets again and hope it spit us out where we wanted to be! There was an IDF graduation ceremony going on and a good number of tourists and observant Jews praying at the wall. Boy did it take me back in time!

We wandered the Old City a bit but needed to find real food. Near Jaffa Gate, we spotted Rossini's and sat down for some dinner. Rossini's was actually listed in my Frommer's guidebook as a fave and now we know why! It was delicious!!! Warm fresh bread with three different spicy spreads followed by an appetizer small portion of a creamy mushroom chicken alfredo. We'd had a hard time deciding what we wanted to eat and the chef and waiter said they'd let us try a bit of what looked good. We would have licked our alfredo bowls if it were considered decent! Yum! But we were brave and tried a traditional Middle Eastern/Mediterranean meal which we can’t remember the name of. But it was good!

This is a small little restaurant and the chef likes to come out and talk with the patrons. We didn't really know he was the chef until I read up on him later. Apparently he's famous and has catered for two Popes' visits to Jerusalem! We had fun chatting with him, he's a Christian Palestinian who was born in the Old City - meaning within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. His parents were from Jaffa, moved back to the Old City before Israel was created in 1948, had to evacuate during the 1967 war when Israel took over the Old City, and then their home was turned into a Jewish hostel for pilgrims in the Jewish Quarter and is still one today. Oh there's so much more to that conversation! It was so interesting! At one point, we asked him about how to buy a kefiyah - the Arab headscarf men wear - and how much they cost so we could do some fun bargaining in the suqs. He insisted on getting them for us and we took him up on it! We knew we wanted to come back to eat there anyways.

Afterward, we waddled fat and happy back to the hotel through the Damascus Gate and called it a night! I love this city!