My adventures in pregnancy, motherhood and beyond

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Monday, June 4, 2012

May 23-26 (Pilgrimage Pt 4, last part)

From here on out, I don't have journal entries yet, so I'm going on memory and our itinerary. Since I'll use this later to update my journal, the days might be a tad bit longer, but I promise they're not very long days.

See the person on the end? Church of Beth Phage
Wednesday started with a group photo on the roof after breakfast. Our hotel has a great view, so it ended up being a nice picture. Boy, did I have a raccoon tan from my sunglasses by this point though. We left for Beth Phage (the house of the palms) and the Mount of Olives to walk the Palm Sunday road. The church is controlled by the Franciscans and represents Jesus' triumphal entry into the city on Palm Sunday. There were beautiful murals and there's a stone that's remembered as Jesus' stepping stone onto his mule (the factuality of this is questionable, however). My favourite mural was on the back wall: it shows Jesus on his donkey and people laying down cloaks and palm fronds for him to walk on. The reason I like it is because the last person is in the process of pulling off their cloak, and when a priest was asked who it was, he responded that it could be anyone, you or me. We walked down the Palm Sunday road, with beautiful views to Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. We read the gospels and saw the tree from which the thorns for his crown came. Youch! Those thorns are LONG and nasty looking. The church has a beautiful picture window that overlooks the city, with metal designs and is shaped like a tear drop. We ended at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Agony or the Church of All Nations. This was James' favourite church last year because of the mural on the front of the church, which really is gorgeous and which I couldn't get a good picture of. The gardens have old olive trees, whose roots are said to be the same as those which Jesus would have walked through. Inside the sanctuary, the altar is built around the rock Jesus is believed to have offered his last prayer that night on (the "take this cup" one). It was a beautiful, dimly lit church. The doors were beautiful tree designs and the gates outside had some great metalwork. We headed to Caiaphas Palace or St Peter in Gallicantu next. We saw the dungeons and prisons, which show evidence of human cruelty. Some believe Jesus was held in the dungeons overnight. The church was beautiful: it had a wonderful stained glass gross on the ceiling that was breath-taking and there was a second church underneath the first. There was another model of the city during Jesus' time outside as well. We had lunch at the Notre Dame Center (they had couches!), just salads to save our appetite for dinner at Iyad's house in Jericho that night. We walked home through the Old City from the New Gate to the Damascus Gate. It was a nice walk, and you can really get a feel for the city. We went back to the hotel to rest before we left at 5 for Iyad's house in Jericho. His family was so kind and welcoming and the food was fantastic! Stuffed grape leaves (OMG why haven't I eaten these before), pastry-wrapped meat, rice and chicken and a very spicy spinach pastry as well. We all exchanged prayer partner gifts and my prayer partner was Jim, a Lutheran pastor who got me a tiny Jerusalem cross for the baby's baptism. So sweet. Then we headed inside to watch a hilarious show: West Bank Story. Think West Side Story as a comedy, set in Israel/Palestine with two fast food chains (Kosher King and Hummus Hut). It's pretty hilarious, and apparently available on Netflix: Go get it!

Touching Golgotha
Thursday was our last day, and our earliest. We had to be ready to leave at 5:45 in the morning. Gah! I woke up at 4:30, freezing cold from our air conditioner which was on super cold mode somehow. I again heard the call to prayer, but for the first time I didn't find it beautiful; all I could think was "Only 40 more minutes of sleep!" Despite the early hour, we were ready to head out at 5:45, and the chill in the air was welcome compared to the heat later in the day. I even had to wear my jacket as well as my head scarf. I'm sure I cut a very serious, religious figure walking the Via Dolorosa with my panda ears on my hood :) We walked all the stations, doing readings from the Way of the Cross book we were supposed to have read before hand (I'm not sure this is the name, but I can't find my copy right now). We were too early for most of the chapels to be open; in fact, I don't think we went into any of them, but it was so nice to walk without the distractions since the Via Dolorosa runs right through the souk. There were very few people out, none of the stores were open, and you were actually able to focus on the story. We ended in the Holy Sepulchre, where the last 5 (?) stations are located. At this point, we were able to see Golgotha/Calvary and touch the stone, through a little hole under the altar. We finished the stations and had some free time. Dad was very gallant and offered to anoint our headscarves once we were outside, since the women shouldn't enter without their heads covered. It was still a bit chilly, but Iyad brought us warm bread to munch on, which was delicious. We headed back to have a leisurely breakfast (a whole hour!) before leaving at 9 am for Emmaus. It felt weird to have done so much so early in the day, but also nice. I didn't eat much, since the bread was more than my usual breakfast, but it was nice to relax a bit. We left for Emmaus, which is mentioned in Luke. The story is that two of the disciples were traveling to Emmaus after Jesus' death and met a stranger on the road. The long and short is that the stranger is, of course, the risen Jesus, but he isn't revealed to them until he breaks bread with them. We had Eucharist at a Byzantine church's remains in Emmaus-Nicopolis (apparently there are four Emmauses) and after got to look around at the ruins a bit. There was a baptismal in the shape of a cross that looked like a full submersion one; kinda like a small version of my grandma's sunken tub. There was also a lizard. I tried to share my dried cherries, but it ran away from me. We headed back to Jerusalem to get our last lunch together at the Petra Restaurant (beginning and ending in Petra!) and had a lovely lunch. I don't remember the dish's name, but it's rice and meat all cooked in a big pot and then they turn the pot over. It was wonderful and extremely filling, plus they brought out watermelon and then ice cream at the end of the meal. It was hard to say goodbye to people, but we expected to see most people around the hotel since many were staying until the next day at least. We went straight from lunch to St. George's Cathedral since Mom was looking for a deacon's stole. No luck with the stole, and it took us forever to find the Cathedral, but we did find it eventually after a lot of walking. It's a very beautiful church and campus for a college. There was some debate over Hezekiah's Tunnels after we got back from the Cathedral, but we opted not to soak ourselves (I honestly thought the water was only ankle or calf deep, not up to your hips!) we saw Zedekiah's Caves instead. It's actually one big cave, and it's neat to see; I've always loved caves and caverns and even though it was humid, it was cool inside. It was also close to the hotel, which was convenient since we were all tired. We came back and rested after this since we were pretty exhausted: James was starting to get sick again, I had yet to feel better and Mom still had her Minnie Mouse voice. Dad, miraculously did not get sick. I crashed pretty hard, falling asleep while reading my book and I'm relatively sure this is the nap from which I "awoke" to tell James he had shekels in his hair. We had dinner at Azzahra's again, but I got lentil soup while everyone else went with the pasta. It was enough food for twice as many people! They brought out dessert again, a cinnamon-roll like thing, but way better than any cinnamon roll I'd ever had. I was stuffed, but I did sneak the roll back to our room to munch on later. :) We went to sleep early since we had another early morning planned: we were going to Masada!

That's James and me, inside the cistern!
Masada is one place that Dad said we absolutely had to go to if we were in Israel. He told me he'd always wanted to take Mom there, and wanted to take me since I was born. It was definitely incredible. We drove a long way, Iyad had set up the taxi for us, recommending that we take the audio tour once we were there. It was a beautiful, scenic drive along the Dead Sea. Our driver stopped to let us take pictures, and took some pictures of us all together too. We got to Masada and I think I shocked our driver by wanting to take the stairs instead of the elevator (he ended up asking what I did at hotels and seemed confused when I said I took the stairs up to 7 flights). We watched a very dramatic video introducing us to the history of the site and got our tickets for the cable car. Yes, I wanted to walk up the Snake Path, but that probably would not have been a good idea, although Dad pointed out that they had added railings along the edges since he'd been there. We opted for the giant cable car instead. On the way up, there weren't that many people and it was a quick ride, which was good. I really don't like being stuck with no way out of a situation and up in the air is about as "no way out" as you can get. We picked up our audio tours, and Dad got attacked by a bird when he pulled out his cheese sandwich from the hotel. Ok, attacked is a strong word, brought on by my own terror of birds, but the bird landed on his arms and definitely wanted some of that bread! It was kinda surreal to see a black bird of some kind, obviously wild, tamely perched on Dad's arm. Dad also had little luck with the audio tour; his switched to some other language halfway through, so James had to go return it. Other than that and the heat, it was lovely. We started following the audio tour and went in order up to number 11. It took a while, but we saw beautiful views of the Dead Sea and awesome ruins and heard about the stores of food Herod used to keep there. In fact, when the rebels holed up at Masada, they used the food stores that were almost 100 years old to feed themselves! We could see the remains of the Roman encampments and the siege ramp they built (apparently there's a way to walk up via the ramp as well). James, Dad and I walked down to the Northern Palace, or rather hiked down. It was quite a ways, and I thought there'd be a little more to see than there was, but it was still neat to do. Although I did have to stop and rest on the way back up. The whole trip was a LOT of walking and it was fine earlier, but as the day crept toward noon, the temperature kept rising. We kept hydrated and decided to shorten our trip, only seeing the things we considered highlights. We saw columbarium towers which were later used at dovecots and saw the Byzantine church's remains, which had walls decorated with pottery shards to make patterns. It was beautiful. But, for me, the highlight was the cistern on the Southern end that you could walk into! It was 60-some steps down, and the steps were enormous; we had to go down one at a time, and sideways. But it was soooo cool! It was enormous! I can't even imagine how much water it would hold and how long it would last; and it was only one of the big cisterns there. Going up was much harder than going down, but I did make it. At this point, we'd been up on Masada for a little more than three hours (We had told our guide 2.5, oops). We had seen what we wanted to see, and had an awesome time. It was a bit eerie at points: the lots that were found that showed the last men to kill the others and themselves, the stories of the Romans entering to find barely a living soul (2 women and a handful of children were the only survivors). It's hard for me to imagine myself in a situation in which death would be better than capture, although I know there are situations like that and I don't doubt that it was the case for the rebels. On the way back we stopped by Ein Gedi, just to take pictures with the sign that proclaimed it was the lowest point on Earth, but had a relatively uneventful, yet beautiful, drive back to our hotel. It was a great trip and I'm so glad I got to see it. We hadn't had lunch yet, so while Dad took a nap and I propped my eyes open, James checked out some restaurants. It was difficult to find one since it was Friday and Shabbat was about to start. We did find a hamburger place in the newer part of the city that was open til 4 (it was almost 2) and opted for a cab this time. Again, cab drivers don't seem to have a requisite knowledge of where things are, and we were dropped off in the vicinity of the restaurant, on the correct street at least. We finally found it (I think numbers are different there too, done by block or something) and had a nice, filling lunch. I could have probably done with a smaller burger, and James was a little sad about the lack of cheese, but we were in a Kosher certified restaurant. It was still delicious, and the bathroom (unisex) had the most awesome sink: just a flat slab of some red shiny stuff in place of a sink and counter. We had a nice meal and managed to grab a cab back to the hotel, or rather to Herod's Gate. Exhausted again, we all fell asleep before dinner. Maybe we should have done more, but we were all so tired. We had dinner at Azzahra's again, pizza for everyone but me, I had the spaghetti bolognese, which was different from Italian bolognese and delicious and huge (and I ate it all!) and more baclava for dessert. The music was middle eastern pop (I'm guessing) and I got the waiter to write down some artists' names for me because mom and I really enjoyed it. In fact, the man at the table next to us asked if he could copy the names too since he'd been Shazam-ing the music on his iPad. It was a lovely meal, and our waiters definitely recognized us. I guess we tip nicely, because they were all very nice to us, though I think they were amused that we kept coming back; after all, it was close to the hotel, didn't bother James' stomach, decently priced and delicious! We didn't want to risk finding a new place with only mediocre food our last night.

We were picked up at 7 am the next morning. James and I were flying out at 11, and Mom and Dad left at 1. James got pulled out for extra questioning as we were entering the airport. I really thought they wouldn't have a problem with him leaving the country, but we were all prepared for this happening. It was less intense than the last time, especially since I could see him and knew where he was. Plus, the guard who was asking questions was a lot nicer and didn't seem to hassle him, just asking who packed our bags, and if the ones in the back were all ours, and if they'd been under our supervision since being packed, etc. We had been warned about airport security at Ben Gurion by both Iyad and Mark, but were pleasantly surprised. I don't know if it was just that it was early (we arrived before the screening was open) but we had a great experience. Since we were leaving from different sections of the airport, and had to go through different security lines, we said goodbye to Mom and Dad before entering security, promising to call and text each other. We were a little confused since there was a sign saying to wait for an official before entering, but then another woman breezed right by the line forming, so we followed her lead, and everyone else followed us (apparently, there was supposed to be an official, but he was in the bathroom...for like 20 minutes). Our checked luggage got scanned through an xray machine that literally sent the luggage flying after it was done with it. Luckily, all the fragile items were in my carry on, and I still had a lot of room in my checked bag too. We checked in, checked our bags and got our boarding passes and headed off to the next security line. We went through that security and were surprised (and pleased) that James could keep his water all the way up to the gate. We were warned that the tiles we got might set off the scanners, but we had no problems and no one asked us any questions at all, despite being told to expect a lot of questions. We just breezed right through and poked around a few shops before getting a chocolate croissant and settling in to wait at our gate. We were there 3 hours early and had almost 2 hours left to wait after going through security. I settled in to read, and we finally boarded our plane. A really NICE plane. A really EMPTY plane. It was great: no one in our row and barely any people around us. In fact, James could probably have had a row to himself if he wanted. The food was terrible and I was starving, which wasn't a good combination (and none for purchase) but I did get to watch almost all three of the LOTR movies, which I'd been wanting to do for a while. So I didn't get any reading or journaling done, though I did sleep for a bit. Our next flight from New Jersey was a pain. We had to go through customs, and had very little time to do so. We finally go through customs with our bags and rechecked them, getting to our gate with our McDonald's (only slightly palatable option) with plenty of time. Only to discover our gate had changed to an entirely different part of the airport. So we had to backtrack down one wing to another wing (on the end of each wing, darn it) and only when we were almost there was an announcement made. Thank God we had a smartphone with us, or we would have been scrambling (by the way, the gate attendant had no clue and was completely unhelpful). Turns out that despite our plane being "on time" we still sat on the tarmac for about an hour before taking off, but after being told to turn off our phones. We couldn't let our ride know we were going to be late; but luckily she checked our flight online since we were over an hour late. *Sigh*. And the plane was gross to boot. Luckily we had no one in our row and I crashed out before we even left the gate, only waking up to eat the gross little meal, but it was an all over unpleasant, uncomfortable flight with no complimentary movies/tv (despite it being 5 hours long) and the attendants weren't even that pleasant. But, we were almost home. When we finally arrived in Orange County, we picked up our bags and called our ride, who was already there, yay! We finally got home to our puppies, who were so happy to have us back, and almost immediately crashed out in our own, queen-sized, comfortable bed! It was great to be home.

Aftermath: I got better within a few days, James was no longer sick, Mom and Dad both got really sick and had matching codeine cough syrup prescriptions. We woke up between 4 and 6 am most days, but adjusted relatively quickly. I get tired really easily, but I'm managing to rest a lot, which is good. We're finally recovering, and I've already got my photos sorted out. All that's left is to finish my journal, and then put the scrapbooking supplies away for the next 5 years or so ;) Eventually I'll get around to it, and it won't be as long a scrapbook as Ireland, so hopefully I'll get it done sooner rather than later. We also discovered that we have a dove nesting in the rafters of our balcony. I'm not sure why she's there, since Pippin tends to try to attack birds, but apparently she and her mate had a few uninterrupted days to build a nest. Now we're just working on keeping Pippin from popping the screen door out when she sees the dove (she's already done it once).

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