Friday, October 31, 2008

It’s the little things…

IMG_6613Joseph, the manager in charge of the dining room at our Jerusalem hotel, oozes charm.  At breakfast the first morning he sidled up to me as I stood contemplating the coffee-making machine.

“I will make you a special coffee”, he said conspiratorially. “Let me guess – cappuccino, low fat milk, no sugar?”

I bet he tries this line with all the ladies.  After all, what woman of-a-certain-age wouldn’t like the implication from this that she watches her weight - and it shows? 

He brought it to me at the table a few minutes later with a flourish.

“I give you a smiley face!”

Would you trust this man with your shop?


A pashmina seller in the Old City of Jerusalem did today. 

R got more than he bargained for when he went in to buy a pashmina.  The owner asked him to mind the shop while he popped out for a bit, and shortly afterwards he found himself behind the counter with a shop full of French tourists!

But wait, there’s more – the owner of an antiquities shop did the same thing! Was it that honest face, do you think?

(With his permission I can now reveal that R is actually the Rev’d Ralph Bowles, rector of St Stephen’s Cooparoo in Brisbane!)

We began our day on the Mount of Olives

Yesterday was a very, VERY full day. My head is reeling from all the places we visited – mostly on foot – in and around the Old City.

The Upper Room, The Mount of Olives, the Palm Sunday procession route down the hill past the Russian Orthodox church (with golden minarets) to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. The Pool of Bethesda and St Anne’s Church, the Austrian Hospice right on the Via Dolorosa with a magnificent rooftop view of the Old City, the dusty old Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and finally the Garden Tomb.

While the day had dawned bright and sunny, a tremendous downpour at the end of the day sent us scurrying for the bus after a simple communion service at the Garden Tomb when Boak had to almost shout to be heard over the drumming of the rain on the roof of our shelter.

A picture paints a thousand words, and since I am a little weary I’ll give you some photos instead.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jerusalem – at last!

Here we are, huddled together on Mount Scopus with Jerusalem behind us (the golden Dome of the Rock is to the left of Boak’s head).

IMG_6319The temperature has plummeted and we are freezing – but so excited to be here!

[If you are enjoying reading about our tour you might like to read Ralph's Reflections, which he updates every few days, for a more thoughtful take on what we are seeing. Naftali Tours has also created a special website where you can click on Gallery and see a selection of photos which I update most days.]

In which we speak of boats, beatitudes and Banyas

Early starts are becoming the order of the day as we race other groups to be first in line at the next site.  By 9.15am today we had visited the kibbutz where an ancient fishing boat from the time of Jesus (unearthed in 1986) is carefully displayed under controlled conditions, and we were out on the Sea of Galilee on a replica of a 1st century fishing boat.  Daphne sketched as we sailed 1 Aboard the boat IMG_6087

The Aussie flag was hoisted to our somewhat scratchy verbal accompaniment (well it was early in the morning!), IMG_6095 the driver cut the motor and all was peaceful.

Boak read us the story of Jesus calming the storm.IMG_6109While we listened we could see the hills of Galilee where Jesus taught the crowds (the Mount of the Beatitudes), fed the 5000 with his miracle of loaves and fishes (Tabgha) and gave Peter his special commission.

We spent the rest of the morning on shore visiting these very sites. IMG_6154 IMG_6136IMG_6176IMG_6173 Whether or not these are the exact sites we have no idea – but thousands of pilgrims are happy to believe they are, and the livelihood of these churches depends on it.

After a lunch of “Peter’s Fish” IMG_6198 we went for an afternoon drive up to the Golan Heights (as you do), through rain and low cloud, with the outside temperature taking quite a dive.  We saw numerous Israeli Army installations, the border with Syria, and the UN peacekeeping force headquarters. 

In stark contrast to some of the bare, rocky countryside we’ve seen over the last few days, this region has fruit trees, cotton, corn and other produce – even the olive trees here look bushier than their Galileean cousins.

On our arrival at Banyas we were greeted with bad news and good news.   The park ranger had closed the gates an hour earlier than usual because the weather by now was very dark and wet.  However she agreed to open just for us, and for a short time we enjoyed the seductive spell of this place once dedicated to the god Pan (Banyas=Paneas).  IMG_6206 IMG_6209 This is the only place in Israel where you’ll see naturally running water, and it’s beautiful.   Why did we go there? 

This poem, written by a late master wordsmith and friend, Bruce Smith, says it all.

Banyas was green,

luxuriant green and


In that forested scene

only the waters moved,

appearing mysteriously beneath the cliffs and flowing silently

in the cool shade

of the overhanging trees.


To tourists familiar

with parched, stony

landscapes Banyas

was a shock; 

a sudden forest luxury

for which nothing

had prepared us. 

It was a place of magic

inviting us to feel

and fantasise. 

Ornate marble capitals,

bases, strewn columns

and fretting remains

of cultic shrines

added to its power. 

Others had fantasised

in this place. 

‘Banyas’, ‘Paneas’ –

hallowed sanctuary of Pan. 

Why not?  How else? 

Everything combined

to weave the spell.


Yet here at Banyas,

Caesarea Philippi,

in these very parts,

a fisherman had stood,

spoken and broken the

power of that spell.

With daring directness

he’d said to Jesus:

“You are the Christ,

the Son of God.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mount Tabor to Nazareth

Though we were there before 8.30 in the morning we still had to wait an hour at Tabor Terminal, with hundreds of other pilgrims fingering olive wood souvenirs, scarves and tapestry bags woven by the Druze, and consuming choc-coated Magnums.  IMG_5953 The road up Mt Tabor is narrow and contains many hairpin bends so we must be ferried up in taxis to the (supposed) place where Jesus met Moses and Elijah and was briefly transfigured with radiance. The place where, with Peter, James and John, he went to find some peace and quiet in which to pray. 

Surprisingly, once up there, there is still a sense of peace.IMG_5929 IMG_5927 IMG_5936 IMG_5961 Yesterday’s thunderstorms were still around, and we drove through heavy rain on the way to the ruins of the Roman city of Sepphorus near Nazareth.  The highlight of our visit here was a magnificent mosaic floor in the hilltop house of a wealthy citizen.IMG_5992 Isn’t she beautiful?  They call her “The Mona Lisa of Galilee”.

Lunch today was felafel and salad in pocket bread (hot chips on the side!) eaten in an Arab cafe in Cana - with Coke instead of the wine enjoyed by the guests at the wedding in this village where Jesus performed his first miracle. 

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Nazareth is a fairly sleepy place on a Sunday afternoon and here we visited the Catholic Church of the Annunciation and saw for ourselves the provocative banner strung up in the square in the centre of town, just below the church. (Look back at my earlier post with a video clip of John Dickson and Greg Clarke speaking from here).IMG_6036 IMG_6037

Olive wood? Did someone say olive wood?

Now that we’re in the Galilee area we’re seeing it everywhere.IMG_6042almost too much of it!IMG_6041 IMG_6040

Monday, October 27, 2008

A midnight encounter

Midnight in Tiberias.  Computer problems.  Couldn’t sleep.  Thirsty.

So I pulled on my jeans and jumper over my pyjamas and went out to buy water.

Thankfully I found some in a shop just across the road from The Scots Hotel where we’re staying.

“Where you from?” asked a stocky, genial-looking gent sitting at a table.  And when I told him I was Australian he invited me to sit for a while.  We chatted on about families and children, the sites to see around Galilee, and the fact that he was a money-changer (in doing this he pulled a fat wad of notes from his pocket). 

The Scots Hotel is an elegant, luxurious establishment today, but it began life in the 1800s as a hospital run by an English doctor, but when both he and his son (who succeeded him) had died it became a maternity hospital in the 1950s.  My companion, David, proudly pointed to the hotel and told me he was born there on 13th June 1952.

However my big surprise came when I discovered that the only resident I know in the whole of Israel is in fact a friend of his! I know he wasn’t just plying me with Arabic charm – though to some extent he was! – because he was able to tell me exactly where Gabriel lives.

That’s how I found myself at midnight on a Saturday night, sitting in my PJs on a plastic chair on a footpath in Tiberias, the waters of the Sea of Galilee quietly lapping against the shore nearby, talking with a total stranger who knew a man with whom I exchange Christmas cards.

True story.

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee


A day of contrasts

“This is so delicious!” S gleefuly declared.

Not from where I stood, thank you very much.

There were many places I’d rather have been than on top of a very exposed archaeological mound dotted with the occasional wind-blown palm tree, with dark clouds gathering overhead and the menacing sound of thunder rolling ever closer.


It didn’t help, either, that the place was called Har Megiddo – the biblical Armageddon – and overlooked the plain where, according to John in Revelation, the final battle at the end of the world would take place between God’s mighty army and the forces of evil.IMG_5836 Delicious?

I’d rather reserve that description for our lunch, at a cafe in a Druze village – tabbouleh, hommus, fresh bread, salads, a sweet dish of chicken and rice spiced with cinnamon, and cardamom-fragrant coffee in tiny glasses.IMG_5824 Our morning had begun in sunshine, exploring the ruins of the vast pleasure palace Herod built on prime real estate on the beach in Caesarea Maritima.  IMG_5808 Stables, a hippodrome, an amphitheatre, public toilets, even a swimming pool supplied with fresh water from an aqueduct – all were pointers to the decadent lifestyle of a hated ruler.  IMG_5803 In coming here, too, we were able to complete the story of Peter and the centurion (Acts 10:23-48) begun in Joppa two days ago.IMG_5807 IMG_5806Then we drove up to Mount Carmel where Elijah had his face-off with the prophets of Baal.

The gloom over Har Megiddo gradually cleared after only a smattering of rain, and as the sun emerged I imagined God smiling to himself and whispering, “Ha!  Just kidding!”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

To market, to market

The Camel Market was humming buzzing just plain in-your-face LOUD! 

Pop music blasted from speakers, shopkeepers bellowed out their wares, anxious to offload as much of their fresh produce as possible in the final hours before the sabbath, and I caught snatches of conversations in many strange languages as I slowly negotiated the seething throng oozing through the narrow alleyway.IMG_5752 This is obviously the place to go if you’re looking for pancakes, apples, bananas, aubergines, fish, peppers, Turkish delight, persimmons, pomegranates, pastries, bread, avocadoes, eggs, beans, fresh flowers, shoes, underwear, t-shirts, jewellery, sunglasses, DVDs, household linen, belly dancing outfits, pasta, every kind of pungent spice imaginable, and more confectionary than I’ve ever seen in one place! 

You can forget the camels, though. Not a hump in sight.

Day 3 - Tel AvivWhile seven of us had ventured forth from the hotel to investigate the Camel Market, most (quite understandably) blanched at the prospect of launching themselves into this Friday afternoon crowd of bustling humanity and turned back. 

You may quite rightly call me naive and foolhardy, but if you’ve read my other blog you’ll know I get a real buzz from markets like these in foreign places.

On and on I walked, soaking up the sights, sounds and aromas, until the alley opened out onto a square where folk sat drinking coffee, or took a break from their shopping to watch a busker.IMG_5771The next street was lined with stalls selling handcrafted goods, but was blocked off at both ends with checkpoints where guards conducted bag searches on everyone wanting to enter.  It was only then that I realised just how vulnerable the Camel Market was.

By this time I was quite lost, but I followed the westerly sun back to the seashore, across the road from our hotel, and there discovered R and B2 watching the sunset in style!IMG_5787 I joined them!IMG_5788 And as the sun set slowly in the west…….IMG_5785.. along the sand came a man carrying a python (!!!) and B2 just couldn’t resist posing with this reptilian accessory.IMG_5790 No way could I have done that!  But then, I guess we each choose our own particular kind of risk-taking, don’t we?