Journey to the Holy Land: Part 2 – Day Trip

Posted: 24 June 2013 in Travel
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Unlike Christianity, the Jewish holy day is saturday and there is literally nothing going on. Most places are closed. The only real option for me was to go on a day trip somewhere. Now I am not prone to going on organised tours as I feel they never really give you an good enough feel of a place. It’s like wine or cake tasting. You get a small sample and then move on to the next. Such was how this trip (although very enjoyable) was.

I got up around 5:30 to get ready and make my way to the hotel. Sam went with me so I didn’t get lost. We waited around for a while until a bus came, but it wasn’t mine. Luckily another one came which was. I was really excited for this trip so I was very glad it was. I’d only been in Tel Aviv thus far so it was a welcome opportunity to see some religiously significant sites.

The first stop on our tour was Nazareth. On our way we saw two interesting sites. The first one is called Tel Megiddo. We were told that it was believed to be the where Armageddon, the battle between good and evil, was to be held at the end of the world. It is now a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I would have really loved to see the excavation there, but it just gives me another reason to revisit. The next one was Mount Tabor. It is a short distance east of Nazareth and is one place believed to be where Jesus was transfigured.

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In Nazareth, our main destination was the Church of the Annunciation (pictured above), also referred to as a Basilika. It is a two-story building built in the 1960s over the site where Mary was believed to be living when the angel Gabriel visited her. The building is very beautiful. As you walk inside, there are two large sets of bronze doors. On them are depicted many biblical scenes (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Isaac, and the life and death of Christ). The bottom level houses a shrine around Mary’s abode. An interesting thing they told us was that the people in Mary’s time lived in caves that dotted the area rather than typical houses. Obviously times have changed and they live in buildings now. The second level was filled with paintings and frescoes of Mary. There was even one from the USA. Another remarkable feature of the cathedral was the ceiling of the dome. It is very surreal.

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We exited the church through the second level and wound our way down the side to the front gates. Around the side was an excavated section that showed what the city used to look like (see the picture above). You can see walkways and some of the caves where people would live. Kinda cool right? We were then led through a bazaar and some back streets to a high spot where we could see all of Nazareth.

The next spot on our tour was on the Sea of Galilee: Capernaum. Capernaum is a city of ruins. It was partial destroyed in the 6th century and then further destroyed over the following 5 centuries. The only places we were allowed to freely roam were at the old synagogue and the new church built over Peter’s house. There was still a lot to see though. Along with the synagogue and Peter’s house is the village and various artefacts strewn all over the site. One of the cool things you can see there is the how there are two parts to the synagogue. If you look at the outer walls, you can see two different types of stone. The bottom layer is darker and smaller stones while the top layer is white and and much larger (and obviously much newer). My favourite part of the synagogue was the pillars. I can’t help it. I love pillars. Oh and fountains, but sadly there weren’t any. There were oil presses though. Not quite the same but oh well.

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The church over Peter’s house was built within the last few decades. It is nice and something unique about it is that it is built in an octagon. There are benches the entire way round leading down to the centre which is glass. You can see the house through the floor. It’s pretty cool. Being that there is a building built over the top of the ruins, it is hard to determine whether the small building in the centre is the entire house or whether the surrounding areas were also a part of it. The only other thing I had wanted to do was touch the Sea of Galilee. I have this thing with touching famous or significant buildings or sites.

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A bit further south of Capernaum is Tabgha. It was at one time a popular fishing town and also contains religious significance. The only place we visited there was a church though. The significant thing about this church is that is was built around the stone believed to be where Christ performed the miracle of feeding the 5000. There was only a small portion of the stone visible underneath an alter. There are also many mosaics in the floor. There are tons of waterfowl as well as a tower and some fish. It was very beautiful.

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The last part of the tour led us down through Tiberias to Yardenit and the Jordan River. It was so peaceful there. The one thing that was kinda weird to me was all the people getting baptised. I mean, I can understand the spiritual significance but it seems sort of odd. But that is just me. It was simply wonderful to be there. Of course no one can be truly sure if this was the place Christ was baptised but the most important point was simply being there. To be in the river where Christ was baptised is an amazing experience in and of itself. Too add to it was the prospect of marriage. We were told on the bus that the legend was if you stood in the water up to your knees for a certain amount of time then you would get married within about six months (I think that was the timeframe). I practically ran to the water. Of course I’m still unmarried (but highly eligible). Oh well. It was a nice thought.

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Overall, it was a wonderful tour. They imparted a ton of interesting information and we got to see a handful of wonderful sites. I was able to interact with people from all different faiths as well. I befriended a couple from Sri Lanka (who I happened to see again when I was going to the Garden Tomb) and then chatted with a family who were Baha’i. I’d never heard of that religion so I was happy to learn something new. Honestly, I found it (and them) to be a bit strange, but it made them happy so who am I to judge. At the end of the day, I really enjoyed myself. I’m still not a fan of organised tours, but I’m still glad I did it. It made a wonderful shabbat. As a final note, the name of the tour group was United Tours. They were wonderful. So if you are looking for a tour in Israel, check them out. Enjoy 😉

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