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The Holy Land, Israel

March 19, 2019

My step dad Gary was an amateur archeologist. Our basement was so full of artifacts that it looked like it should have been Indiana Jones’ classroom. It was both cool and creepy and I was always afraid to go downstairs to do the laundry. It was when he would bring these treasures up from the dark and cover the dining room table that I would get interested in their history. Hours would pass as I held these early stone artifacts in my hand marveling at their fine craftsmanship and realizing that I was holding something  that was used thousands of years ago.

However, there was one item in his collection that I was particularly interested in and it didn’t come from the Northwest of the United States, but from across the world, in Egypt. In the 1940’s Gary’s father purchased a little Egyptian clay statue from an antique shop in Cairo. I would always take out this little statue from it’s box and unwrap it’s cotton gauze to gaze at this ancient little face. 

In 1978 the King Tut exhibit came to Seattle Washington and we purchased tickets. We were all excited to go, especially Gary. That visit, cemented my fascination with Egypt. I even thought that I might become an archeologist. 

So when Oliver and I settled on visiting South Africa, I was surprised to come across a discounted last minute tour of Jordan and Egypt. It also worked out that flying from London to Jordan, then Cairo and on to Cape Town saved us hundreds of dollars on our flights.

I was so excited after booking it, that I could not sleep. I was going to Egypt! Truly the trip of a lifetime for that young girl from Idaho. 

We arrived in Jordan early and had a few days before our tour started. We decided that we could also visit Israel. I couldn’t believe how well it worked out. Our flights from New Orleans to South Africa with our stops in between now only totaled $700 each! 

We checked into our hotel when we arrived. We realized that we could leave our bags there and just take a day pack with a change of clothes to Jerusalem. We ventured out to the Jordan museum where we met a cab driver who acted as our tour guide. He drove us to a mosque and a few sights around the city and then took us to Rainbow Street where I had the best falafel of my life. 

Oliver was struggling with the foreign currency as he usually does. It takes him two or three days before he quits getting freaked out that things cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the local currency. In Jordan he was having difficulty because their currency was stronger than ours. He also was upset that their coins had no numbers on them and their bills only had numbers on one side. For some reason this amuses me. I hated to tell him that tomorrow we would be getting shekels from Israel to add to his euros, dollars, and Jordanian currency he was already juggling.

Our cab driver agreed to meet us early the next morning and take us to the Israeli border crossing. He gave us his number to call him and he would pick us up in a few days when we returned. The drive to the border was only 30 minutes, but the history we passed was amazing. We drove by the Dead Sea, we passed the site where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, and we knew the names of every surrounding hillside from the Bible. As we crossed the river Jordan it became real that we were in the Holy Land.

Our driver dropped us off at the King Hussein/ Allenby Bridge crossing and gave us instructions for the crossing. It seemed very low key and we quickly got stamped out of Jordan and onto a border shuttle where we were driven across a buffer zone into Israel.

Now this was a border. In all of our border crossings I’ve never seen anything like Israel’s border. It is heavily fortified. After our bus was checked and allowed in, we disembarked and were now in Israel! Ol and I had made fast friends with a couple from Australia waiting in line on the Jordan side. We visited on the bus and they offered to share their private car from the Border into Jerusalem. 

As I was visiting with our new friends in the security line, I heard a commotion behind me. Ol was being asked by an Israeli soldier if he was taking pictures. Of course we all know the answer to that one. Yes he was! The guard quickly got on his radio, and was soon joined by more security personnel. I was getting nervous as they were ushering Oliver off. I got out of line to hand him his passport and then I was asked if I was with him. I thought about it for a second too long, as I was also ordered out of line and told to follow the border police!

Ok, this type of thing usually happens to me. But this was Oliver! The guards took our passports and had us at the front of the line. Our bag was put through the scanners and we walked through metal detectors. We were then met by more security. Ol was literally surrounded by 10 heavily armed guys and after asking me a few questions they told me that I could wait in the waiting room as they needed to question my husband.

I was starting to freak out. I was trying to focus on the good things, like we did just skip a really big queue. Then I started thinking of Ol asking the Australians to take pictures of the border from their side of the bus with his phone. What would security think when they looked at the pictures.

Just when I was about to totally freak myself out, I saw Ol walking with a group of Israeli security men, they were all laughing and smiles. After a few pats on the back and handshakes Ol was returned to me. I hug him and for the first time in thirty minutes and take my first real deep breath.

Ol said that the security guys wanted to know why he was taking photos of the border crossing. He said that he told them that he was an American tourist and enjoys taking photos. I’m sure that having an American passport helped a lot. In Ol’s defense there were no signs against taking pictures.

Anyway, I promised you travel tips on our blog. Here is one for Israel, if you want to skip the long lines at customs in Israel, just take a few pictures at the border!

It was a short drive into Jerusalem. The driver stopped at a scenic overlook on the Mount of Olives and we caught our first glance of the holy city. Absolutely beautiful! I now regretted we only had three days in Jerusalem. We hit the ground running and started our visit off with a free walking tour of the city that our Australian friends had pre-booked. 

It is there where we met our guide Josh. He was a great historian and after our tour we hired him to privately guide the four of us around the city the following day. Josh has lived all over the States and has dual citizenship in Israel. After his military service he had an assortment of private security jobs all over Africa. We have kept his number in case we find ourselves in any more trouble on our journey!

We finished the day at one of Christianity’s holiest shrines, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We entered the church to the beautiful singing of the Orthodox Christian priests. We saw where Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected, we rubbed the stone where his body was prepared for burial. 

To see so many holy sites, and the respect given by all religions to this holy place was wonderful. The following days we would follow in Christ’s final foot steps. We would visit sites revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. 

On our private tour with Josh, we walked the city and learned its more recent history. The history of the many settlers. The recent conflicts and the politics of the region. It’s funny, but I never thought that I would see Jerusalem with an Atheist Israeli American Jewish historian. He seemed to discuss both sides of every issue rather fairly, but he also told us things that wore away some of the magic of the sites we were seeing. No spoilers here.

Our friends from Australia thankfully shared similar political and travel interests. We had great dinners, drinks, and conversation together. We had time to visit several museums, including the Holocaust Museum, the Rockefeller Museum and the Israel Museum.

Ol and I hired a cab to take us to the West Bank. We had a guide take us to Bethlehem and to the Church of the Nativity where we saw where Christ was born. I was happy to be back lighting candles.

It was a wonderful, but exhausting three days. We finally made it back to Jordan and had one final dinner with our new friends. Our friends own an adventure travel agency in Brisbane and are both very well traveled. They had already toured Jordan and Egypt and were on their way to Berlin and then a tour of Iceland. While we share the same interests, we travel slow, they travel fast. We both look forward to sharing our home countries with one another. Hopefully our paths will cross again soon.

When Ol and I settled into our hotel room for the night it was well past midnight. We would begin our 14 day tour of Jordan and Egypt in the morning. After an exhausting visit of the Holy Land and visiting all its history, I went to sleep with those same dreams as my fourteen year old self, what would my life have been like if I had opened that other door and studied archeology…. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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