Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February Photo a Day Challenge Day 27 - Something you ate

Falafel, pita bread and tzatziki (or hommous) seem to have become my regular lunch, as we stop in local eateries and enjoy delicious salads, warm fresh bread, freshly-squeezed juices and sweet treats.

They say travel broadens the mind. I just hope that's the only part of me broadened by this wonderful experience ;-)

February Photo a Day Challenge Day 26 - Night

Just a couple of hours after arriving at Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, yesterday afternoon we found ourselves in the midst of a happy early evening crowd at the lake's edge watching a water and light show presenting scenes from the region's history projected onto walls of water spray.

One of those serendipitous moments in travel that can sometimes leave the very best memories.

What a night!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Herod's little place at the beach

If you're fortunate enough to have kitchen bench tops made of Caesarstone, here's where it's made, Caesarea Maritima a little way north of Tel Aviv.

Here too Herod the Great built himself a rather nice place by the sea, complete with swimming pool and hippodrome.

With our friends virtually standing on Herod's balcony overlooking the sea I took the opportunity for another group photo.

Specially for the folks back home

I know there are plenty of friends, family and church family back home in Australia following our trip who would like to see photos of their loved ones, so if you're one of my loyal blog readers with no interest in a dozen Aussies tramping the Holy Land, please indulge me as I share a few 'happy snaps'.

Pink-hatted ladies - Barbara and I enjoying the sunshine at Caesarea Maritima.

Elizabeth taking in the view from Mount Carmel.

Richard, our keenest photographer, in typical pose at Megiddo.

Denise at Masada.

With Catriona, Helen ((resplendent in pink!), Beverley and Barbara at Jaffa/Joppa where we took in the expansive view of Tel Aviv's beaches in the late afternoon.

Greta on Mount Nebo, with the Holy Land behind.

Bev goes Bedouin at Wadi Rum.

Boak, Peter and Richard in the synagogue at Masada.

February Photo a Day Challenge Day 25 - Green

We've been blessed with our weather so far. Just a couple of days before we arrived in Jordan it snowed in Petra and the site had to be closed, but as you've seen the skies quickly cleared and we've had perfect conditions for sightseeing.

Israel is as green as can be, and wild red anemones and yellow mustard flowers make bright splashes of colour on the roadside.

When we visited the Biblical nature reserve of Neot Kedumim near Tel Aviv yesterday afternoon we saw hundreds of miniature cyclamen in clumps, as well as apple and almond blossom.

These views from Megiddo, looking over the Jezreel Valley, will give you some idea of the fresh green fields of barley, fennel and other crops.

And just because I like colour, here are a couple more snaps of flowers I couldn't resist. This statice was growing wild near the Roman theatre at Caesarea Maritima.

And these (we call them red hot pokers at home) were growing in the garden at the monastery on Mount Carmel, the site where Elijah and his God triumphed in his face-off with the prophets of Baal.

Kind of appropriate, don't you think, when the challenge was to see whose God would be first to light the sacrificial fire.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Going up in the world

Morning over the Dead Sea, as seen from the balcony of our hotel room.

There are two ways to get up to the fortress of Masada, by cable car or by walking the serpentine path. Richard was all for the latter, but some of us were glad we only had time to take the 10 minute cable car ride.

Hi there, Helen, Denise and Elizabeth!

Month after month 900 Jewish zealots are said to have held out here, atop the mountain, while 10,000 Romans and Jewish prisoners built a huge ramp up the western side, eventually breaching the walls of the fortress in April of 73AD.

The Romans found everyone dead from a mass suicide.

(above) Our guide with the three men in our group, Boak, Peter and Richard, in the synagogue.

(below) Looking down into one of the huge cisterns built to hold water diverted from the flash floods in the desert.

The one where we float in the Dead Sea

We lunched at Qumran, visited the ruins, and saw the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. In the days when the Essenes lived here the Dead Sea (more than 400 meters below sea level) would have been so much closer, but evaporation over the years, and more recently damming and irrigation by Israel in the north, has had a devastating effect.

A channel has had to be constructed to keep water flowing to the southernmost reaches, where a large cluster of hotels and health resorts offer treatments for just about whatever ails you.

In my panoramic shot above, which I took from our hotel room in the late afternoon, you can see across to the hills of Moab in Jordan, a gorgeous shade of pink at that time of day, and to the right of the picture the little beach where some of us went for our Dead Sea float.

By the time we arrived at our hotel the sun was low and the light was poor for photo taking, so I've played around with this shot of Bev, Catriona, Peter and me to make it a little clearer.

The water has 33.7% salinity and feels oily. The lifeguard on duty would never be needed to rescue people from drowning because that's just about impossible as you bob like a cork on the water.

His job was to tell us exactly how to float so we didn't swallow any water. Once in the water - a feat in itself because of the tiny pebbles underfoot - you sit or squat, and then your legs just rise to the surface!

What you should never do is try to swim, and the guard was quick to come down on anyone who did. Once you get even a splash of water in your mouth you realise why. The hyper salinity combined with the heavy concentration of minerals makes for a vile-tasting cocktail that will do serious damage to your gastrointestinal tract (the ambulances were standing by!).


We crossed over into Israel this morning via the Allenby Bridge and drove through this amazing terrain on our way to Jericho.

Since I was here last they've opened a brand new archaeological park at Tel es-Sultan, making it easier to view the excavated 6,000 year old Canaanite silo where grain would have been kept.

Elizabeth and Beverley.

After passing through the rugged, barren hills, entering Jericho seems like arriving at an oasis. Orange and lemon trees are fruiting in domestic gardens and allotments, and the shops sell a greater variety of fresh fruit than I've seen anywhere here so far.

A delicious cup of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice tasted a treat!

So close!

Two days ago we stood, as Moses once did, on Mt Nebo, east of the Jordan River. Like Moses, we could see the Promised land, Israel, through the late afternoon haze.

Nearly there!


Beverley - not to be confused with Bev :-)



Once again Omar read us the Bible account of this event. Also in the picture is Richard, our photography enthusiast and artist who plans to paint a series of pictures inspired by the scenery, colours and spaces we're experiencing on our travels.

The huge cross that Catriona, Elizabeth, Barbara and Peter are looking at was inspired by the snake of copper on a pole that God instructed the Israelites to look up to in faith to be healed from their snake bites in the desert.

Moses didn't get to experience the delights of the land 'flowing with milk and honey', but we will very soon. I hope you'll come along too.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A palace and a patriarch

We paused briefly to view from a distance Herod's hilltop palace of Machaerus where John the Baptist was imprisoned.

The grisly tale of lust and vengeance is familiar to you, I'm sure. In a moment of rashness, entranced by Salome's graceful dancing, Herod offered her just about anything her heart desired, and she chose John the Baptist's head on a platter.

And this was where it happened. As we stood there I read aloud from Mark's account in the Bible. The chill that went through us wasn't entirely due to the wind.

At our next stop, Madaba, to look at the ancient mosaic map of the Middle Eastern world in the Greek Orthodox Church we got more than we bargained for.

Without warning there was sudden scurrying and gestures to move back, and the next moment the Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow emerged from a limousine, accompanied by a black-garbed entourage.

Jordan's Grand Canyon

An experienced driver and a smaller bus both come in handy when negotiating the serpentine King's Highway through the spectacular Wadi Mujib. Fortunately we had both.

This road was originally constructed by Trajan in classic Roman style in 106 AD, but as a thoroughfare it had been used by travelers for centuries before this. What a thrill to drive along such an ancient route even used by Moses and the children of Israel.

While Salim negotiated the hairpin bends with ease there was a chorus of clicking cameras as we tried to capture the majesty of Moab's hills and the Al Mujib Dam.

Look what Beverley bought from the artisans when we stopped at the lookout.