I visited Israel twice: first for business in 2012 and then in 2013. We arrived in Jerusalem in the evening, I quickly left the luggage in the hotel room, I jumped in a taxi and drove through the city. We first observed the clean streets, the buildings made of white stones, the malls and the 5 star hotels.
Then I was fascinated by the old city of Jerusalem. The big walls already announced me that I will enter into another world, and I did. Once we past the gate we reached the grand bazaar. The bazaar is colorful, filled with beautiful embroidered materials, bracelets and necklaces arranged in the beautiful oriental style. The streets of the bazaar smell of saffron, myrrh and are full of candles and icons. After walking for an hour I got thirsty and I stopped to drink some fresh and delicious pomegranate juice.
After hundreds of steps we reached the Resurrection Church. It’s Friday night, the weekend just started, so the church is suffocated by tourists from all over the world. We entered the church and stopped near the Stone of Anointing. I touched it and I prayed. I have to confess something: despite being the kind of person who goes to church only on rare events such as weddings, funerals or Easter when I touched the Stone of Anointing I burst into tears. Believe me, it was something inexplicable because I had no reason to cry out of the blue. Dozens of strangers around me were doing the same thing. All of them had icons, prayer books, scarves or crosses that they put on the Stone of Anointing to bless them.
A few steps further is the Holy Sepulcher. In weekends and holidays the queues in front of Jesus tomb are endless. People all over the world wait for a few hours to pray in the place where Jesus was resurrected. I had no patience to wait that Friday so I returned Wednesday evening when the crowd was over. The Angel Chapel is the first room where I walk. In the center is a prestol over which lays a square stone that is protected by glass. It is a piece of stone that was at the door of the tomb of Christ. The second room is the place where the body of Jesus was placed and is such a small space, it has only two meters long and is filled with icons. If you do not know how to pray on fast forward, learned to do it now because you are allowed about 30 seconds to stay in the tomb, or a full minute … if you’re lucky. I was so fast that I was still talking with Jesus when the monk guarding the tomb walked me out and I prayed until I reached the place where it was the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
At the exit of the Church of Resurrection something caught my attention. Some people prayed at a crack in the door pillar on the right. Then I found out the crack story. One year the orthodox christians didn’t have the money to pay the fees imposed by Turkey to enter in the Church of Resurrection so they stayed out without being able to get the holy light of Easter. Then the fire of God lowered them in the form of a lightning and hit the column at the entrance. So there was light, Easter light.
After the Church of the Resurrection we stoped at the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a beautiful place. Here Jesus prayed before he was betrayed by Judas and taken by the Romans. The garden covers about 20 hectares and today there are only a few olive trees as witnesses of the Lord’s prayer. They say that Judas hanged himself on one of this olives after betraying Jesus.
In the Garden of Gethsemane we visited the Church of All Nations, a building painted in a majestic way. The building was built on the ruins of two churches destroyed in 614 and in 1219. Also on the Mount of Olives is the oldest jewish cemetery. We climbed to the highest point of the mountain to see it and once we got there we saw one of the most beautiful images of Jerusalem, Belvedere.
Near Belvedere we found Pater Noster Church, which has the walls decorated with Lord’s Prayer written in all the languages of the world. This is the place where Jesus preached to the apostles and told them for the first time the Lord’s Prayer. Inside there is also a Romanian chapel.
I was curious to see the Wailing Wall so I left Gethsemane Garden. The wall is really only what it remains of the Temple of Solomon, a place considered holy by Jews and Muslims. The wall is 32 meters high, of which only 19 meters are visible, and it’s made of 45 rows of stone that were placed from Herod the Great till 1967. In the spaces between the stones of the Wall you can see tickets written by people all aver the world and left there before Easter and on the Hebrew New Year. The place of prayer for women is separated by a fence from the place where the men pray and photo cameras are prohibited. But what do you do with people like me who take hidden pictures? The photos here are in the category it’s not nice, but it’s useful because otherwise I couldn’t show you how men put their forehead against the wall while praying, or how women are seated and didn’t take their eyes off from the religious books. If you pass the camera test, be careful at the clothes. Legs, shoulders and upper part of the arms must be covered.
When the night comes and you think you’ve got nothing else to visit in Jerusalem take a walk through the streets of the old city. I walked for hours through and I found in the Muslim part of the old city a coffee shop where they had the most flavored teas and the most delicious homemade baklava I ever ate. I have to tell about the Sabbath. Jews celebrated weekly from Friday evening to Saturday evening till sunset and during the Sabbath all the shops and restaurants are closed. Therefore if you don’t want to starve pick up some supplies Friday morning or look for the Muslim shops in the old city .
From Jerusalem we went to Palestine and after a half-hour drive we were in Bethlehem. We went to the Nativity Church which was built over the cave where Jesus was born. The sanctuary is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world preserved until today. In the year of 326 the Empress Helena decided to raise the church over the cave of Christ. Since that time there are only a few pieces of the mosaic that covered the impressive floor entirely. The place where Jesus was born is marked with a star reminiscent of the one that guided the shepherds. People all over the world come to touch the star and pray here and most of them are Orthodox so the waiting lines are sometime endless. Lucky for us our guide knew a shortcut, if we can call it that way. He said that we are all Catholics and led us in the church dedicated to them where no one stood in line. The most interesting place was the cave where Jesus was born. It looked like in the old days of Bethlehem, only that now it has electricity and icons on the walls next to the ancient Hebrew inscriptions. The church is huge, but the entrance is through a door … very small sign that the people at that time were very short. Total wrong 🙂 The door of repentance, how it’s called, was placed in the wall in the Ottoman period, in order to prevent Muslims to enter in the church on the horseback and to compel everyone to bow his head before the Lord. The complex of the Church has an Orthodox monastery, a Catholic on and an Armenian one. Here I saw for the first time the Cross of Jerusalem, which was located at the main entrance of the church.
All that visit made us hungry so we stopped at a local fast food and I bought a shawarma. I’m not a fan of this dish in Romania and I don’t remember the last time I ate it in Bucarest, so I decided to eat it in Palestine. It’s totally different from the one made in Romania. It has vegetables, fresh meat prepared with oriental spices, hummus, natural dips and a pita that has the texture of a pancake. I didn’t left Bethlehem without souvenirs for my loved ones . I bought olive wood bracelets for my friends and an icon for my parents.
Another day, another trip. We went to the Dead Sea and while the vegetation was disappearing I found myself in a beautiful landscape. The first stop was exactly at sea level where for 4 euro a genuine Bedouin owner of three wives and many camels, gave me a 10 minutes ride on his camel who was trying to spit me :)) After my camel ride we began to descend below the sea and then in the middle of the desert on top of the Death Mountain I saw the fortress of Masada. I was included in the category to lazy to climbe a few hours the mountain to reach the fortress so I took the cable car. Masada is known for one of the most powerful Roman sieges on the Hebrew refugees. They were patriots who riot against the Romans. For three years the Romans tried to conquer Masada fortress and they failed. When they finally managed to break Masada’s wall, the Hebrew rebels killed their families and then committed suicide. All that the Romans found in the fortress were a woman and two children. Masada became then a Roman fortress of which today there are left only the ruins. You can still admire the impressive mosaics and an old roman spa with sauna, swimming pools, gyms and massage areas.
What leaves you speechless is not the fortress but the surrounding views. It’s a desert of a particular beauty, with a slightly amber color that stops in the Dead Sea. The saltiest water in the world is another story. A few minutes of swimming in it can replace a hole day at the spa because it has moisturizing and healing properties, so after I got out of it my skin was incredibly soft. Since I couldn’t take back home the Dead Sea, I went to one of the cosmetics factories near by that is called Ahava. The body lotions, face creams and shower gels here are divine. They have a subtle flavor and a smooth texture that nourish all skin types. I bought a scrub, a face cream and a body lotion. That was just the first time I was in Israel, because the second time I went there prepared to return back home with the luggage full of Ahava products.
We did another trip to Galilee where we stopped at Tiberias Lake, or the Sea of Galilee as the locals call it. Tiberias Lake is 200 meters below the sea level and in his waters lives a biblical fish, St. Peter’s fish. Here we enjoyed the silence, the view of the lake and we ate the famous fish. It was delicious! Then we went to Capernaum, the town where Jesus met the apostles Peter, Andrew, Joseph, John and Matthew. Here we saw the ruins of St. Peter’s house, a fourth-century church and a the White Synagogue ruins. Capernaum and its surroundings are places where Jesus had performed some of his miracles. Next stop for us was Nazareth, where Jesus spent his childhood. In the city center stands proud the Annunciation Church, which was built through the efforts of Christians worldwide and therefore is filled with icons of the Virgin Mary holding the Holy Child. Inside the Annunciation Church is the house of Mary and under the church you can see a part of the ancient Nazareth. Nearby is located the fountain where the angel appeared to Mary and told her that she will be preagnant the holy child.
On the way back from Nazareth we stoped at the Jordan River to see exactly where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. I met hundreds of people from all over the world who came to be baptized here. They bought white long shirts from entrance to be baptized in. Many were from African countries where Christian baptism is not practiced, so they came to Israel to realize their religious dream. Along with all the people in white shirts I saw lots of coypus swimming so I fed one of them with some pretzels from Buzau. That was the end of my visits to Israel . It’s true that I wanted to see Tel Aviv as well, but I didn’t had the time. Maybe next time 🙂
You can book you travel to Israel here: http://circuit.besttourism.ro/Israel.html