To the Middle East…
The beginning of our trip is chronicled in my first post titled, The Transpirations of International Bus Routes. Once your finished reading this you can read the conclusion of our travels in my post …and Back. If you haven’t read that first you will find it worth your extra time.
We stayed the night in Zurich, attempting to see as much of Switzerland as possible before heading back to the airport in the morning. As our plane descended towards Tel Aviv, we saw palm trees and grass and it reminded me of how I felt when I used to fly out to California to visit Burke. (PS, we figured out that this six month hiatus from flying was the longest either of us had gone in years.) When we went through customs we were questioned twice before finally getting cleared and we were on our way! We took a sherut taxi to Jerusalem and finally, thirty hours after leaving, we arrived at our destination.
Jerusalem was so beautiful and so full of things to do and see. The first thing we did was navigate our way through tight alleys of shop after shop to get to our hostel. We checked in, walked to the rooftop that looked over the city and left to begin exploring. The shops were amazing, touristy, as expected, but they still had an antiquated feeling. At this point in my travels I’ve realized that about every trinket you can find is made in China, but it was the specialties that made these merchants unique to Jerusalem. There is a scarf man with hundreds of patterns of scarves, the juice man with the biggest pomegranates I’ve ever seen, and the chess man with more sizes of chess boards than I ever knew existed. The best part though is that everyone of them says, “For you, nice price. I give you nice price.”
Later that evening as we wandered through Old Town, we stumbled across the Western/Wailing Wall. It was so incredible to see the swarms of devoted people praying. We observed the wall for a while and then there was a sort of military ceremony that we watched for awhile. Leaving the wall we ran into a man who upon greeting us tied a red ribbon to our wrists. He said a blessing to both of us, each one a variant of the other. The part I remember the most was “May you cook well for your husband and bear many, many children for him.” Then he held out his hand and asked, “You like-a my bless?” After that we made our way to a kosher vegetarian restaurant and retired for the night.
The next morning we woke up determined to see as much as we could. We met a local named Ibrahim who gave us some good traveling advice and told us to come back and meet him in the Jewish quarter so he could tell us more about the city. Then we walked along the tops of the alleys where more of the locals go to avoid the tourists. Also this is where most of the stray cats hung out:). We had a quick but authentic breakfast and went back to the Western Wall, then we walked to the base of the Mount of Olives and looked up at the Garden of Gesemite. When we passed back through the city walls, we stopped in at the birthplace of Mary. It was such a simple attraction with just a man and a painted room, but we climbed down a set of stairs into a musky basement and there roped off he told us was where Mary was born. He took us down two more levels and told us that was where Mary spent her earliest years. We touched the walls, and I said that maybe I touched a place Mary touched.
Next we went to the Dome of the Rock and walked around until they kicked us out because it is only open to the public about one hour a day. From there we began the stations of the cross. The path is called the Via Dolorosa and it is truly a shame that we had to hurry through, but we stopped at every station and prayed or reflected on the events of the location. The final four or five stops are all in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so we spent a long time there really taking in the depth of what we were experiencing. Oddly to us, the church has practically no decorations of any sort. It was so strange to see bare concrete walls in a church.
We had time for the purchase of one quick souveniere (Jesus Sandals) before we had to start walking to the bus station. Even though we had only been there for a day and a half, we had to leave because the bus to Amman isn’t very frequent. So with that, we were on our way to Nazareth! We arrived in the evening and stayed at a hostel that was a converted mansion from a Galilaen family. The guy working the checkout counter was an American who was helping to pioneer the Jesus Trail so we talked with him about that for a while before exploring a little of Nazareth before going to bed. Fortunately, he told us that the bus didn’t leave from the central bus station, as our information said, but from some hotel on the other side of town. If it wasn’t for him, the man who called out from his car at a traffic light, and a man walking down the street all offering us their help, we never would have made the bus.
But once we were on the bus we were fine again and in good company. We met a girl from New Zealand who had been teaching English, a Russian man, and a young Israeli who was traveling to India. We talked to them for a while until we reached the Israel/Jordan border. We paid our Israel exit fees (95 sheckels each) and got our stamps before reboarding the bus, driving through a mile or two of nomansland and being dumped back out at the Jordan border. Here you have to pay 20 dinar each for a Jordanian visa. I got into the visa line while Burke got in line to exchange our sheckels, but then he came to me with 15 or so dinar. Not going to cut it, Burke. So he got back in line and exchanged our leftover Swiss Francs and emergency US dollars, but that only brought us up to 37 dinar. I got our of my line and tried to give the man our Hungarian forints but he wouldn’t take them. By this time, the line had faded and we were just about the only people left in the room. Yikes…