By some stroke of genius (or more like insanity), we managed to more or less book ourselves solid for nearly 3 months of visitors and traveling. We’re not quire sure how this phenomenon happened (lack of common sense and foresight come to mind), but we wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
Craziness aside, the most important thing is that we had the immense pleasure of having BOTH sets of our parents make the epic journey halfway across the world to see what the heck we’ve been up to for the past year. And I don’t think that means sitting on the couch with Franklin power-watching Netflix…..
While both visits were incredibly unique, we did overlap on some of the main stops. So in an effort to not write two nearly identical posts yet capture the uniqueness of both trips, we will attempt to write a fusion of the Parental Units’ Grand Tour of Israel…
What better place to start than right in our own backyard in Jaffa. Jaffa is a 5,000 year old port city that has seen A LOT of action in its lifetime. Since you all know from our recent participant reviews, I am not the BEST at remembering facts or details about really old places, so we optted to take our visitors on the Free Walking Tour of Jaffa. The tour provided an excellent synopsis of the history – basically, lots and lots of people have wanted to lay claim to this crucial trade spot and/or passed through on their way to conquering other areas of the Middle East. The tour provided thorough and efficient navigation of the winding walkways of the old city, tempting us with countless local artist shops. The timing of the tours also gave us an excellent opportunity to enjoy a lunch of fish and chips and the famous Dr. Shakshuka.
After the Jaffa Tour, it only made sense to time-warp about 4,900 years and head just outside the walls of Jaffa to the present day city of Tel Aviv. Unlike its VERY old neighbor, and the Middle East in general, the city of Tel Aviv is quite young (founded in the early 1900s). Once an expanse of sand dunes and orange orchards as far as the eye could see, Tel Aviv rose out of the sand and transformed into a modern, hip, and busy city! On the Tel Aviv tour, we learned about the early settlers, transition to independence, architecture, and dynamic graffiti scene. Matt and I had only taken one tour of the city when we first moved, so this was a great treat and perhaps a few months overdue.
Now, lets hop in the car and start heading North. Our first stop, Apollonia National Park, which is one of the many old fortresses scattered throughout Israel. The area has had some sort of fortification for the last 2,500 years and what we see today is due to those pesky Crusaders. Apollonia is impressively well preserved despite being razed by the Mamluks in 1265. It is also just an incredible vantage point, beautifully situated overlooking the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump up the coast, you get to Caesarea National Park. This port was built by King Herod – who was a crazy maniac. He liked to build things H-U-G-E!!! He built extensive baths, a chariot racing stadium, a massive theater, commerce areas, and some extraordinarily large palaces overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean – creating a major access point for importing and exporting materials from across the ancient world. The Theater still hosts major performers today!
Continuing North, we come to the beautiful hillside port town of Haifa! The San Francisco of Israel! Haifa is the home to Bahai Gardens – a magnificent 19 terraced, 1 kilometer high garden dedicated to the Bahai’s Prophet-Herald. The gardens are breathtaking and designed firmly on the concepts of symmetry. Entrance to the gardens is only permitted while on a guided tour, which provides information about the history of the religion and development and maintenance of the gardens. At the end, you get to watch a nice video….which is great for the photographers on the tour because they are too busy snapping pictures to listen to the guide 🙂
Just down the road is another park – Hai Bar Carmel. Due to the High Holidays, some days required some creativity finding places that were open…and interesting. Hai Bar Carmel works to raise and protect endangered animals of the area. And we couldn’t pass up the awesome photo-op to be Fallow Deer. They also had a lot of vultures.
Our final stop on our way up the coast is Acre/Acko/Acco/Akko…..you can decide…. but I like Akko. Anyways… the city is quite striking due to its large sea wall built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, which is now used as a diving board for the locals to hurtle themselves into the sea. Akko has a long and storied history and the list of conquers reads like a who’s who of ancient world domination, from the Egyptians to the Romans to the Crusaders to the Ottomans. The Crusaders in particular left their mark on the place by building magnificent halls, walls, and tunnels… and similar to Apollonia the Mamluks conquered Akko, which was the last costal stronghold of the Crusaders.
From Akko we head east to Nazareth – Jesus’ hood! The area around Nazareth has been inhabited for over 9,000 years – incredible! During Jesus’ time, it was a quiet Jewish village with less than 1,000 residents where he spent his childhood reading the Torah and helping Papa Joe in the wood shop. Today it is the largest Arab city in Israel with approximately 70,000 residents (30% Christian and 70% Muslim) and is a happening place with cobble stone streets and crumbling Ottoman-era mansions. Oh yeah… it has some VERY steep streets that are an endless maze but more on that later.
According to the New Testament, this was here that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her she would give birth to the Son of God. Kind of a big deal! The Greek Orthodox and Catholics can’t quite agree on where this took place so there are two churches. The Catholic one is known as the Basilica of the Annunciation and is very impressive! The church is build over an earlier Byzantine-era church and a Crusader-era church, which is over the remains of the original childhood home of Mary, where the Catholics believe the annunciation took place. The Greek Orthodox believe that the annunciation took place at a nearby well, hence their church is there. The Greek Church was not as impressive (to me…although the Catholic Basilica is pretty hard top) but you can get some delicious water from the well!
I think the coolest thing about the Basilica of the Annunciation is all of the colorful mosaics from countries around the world sharing their visual depiction of Mary and Jesus.
For you Greek Orthodox out there, here are a few pictures of their rendition of the annunciation centered around Mary’s well.
Nazareth was our home base for a few days with Matt’s parents and we stayed at a magnificent 200 year-old Arab mansion in the Old City called Fauzi Azar Inn. We had a epic time trying to drive to the entrance and as I mentioned earlier we got lost in the maze of steep streets winding through Nazareth. At a few points, the road was so steep that the wheels were peeling out as we tried to overcome the force of gravity and dodge oncoming traffic. No one was injured but there was some serious car sickness. After exchanging some confusing calls with the Inn and hitting a very tight dead-end, I set off on food in search of the place….and eventually learned that you can’t actually drive to the inn! Convenient! I managed to found the reception and the guy says “OH! your husband cannot stay out on that street in his car! The locals will yell at him and be very upset” to which I respond, “okay, please explain where we can park and I will go with him to move the car”……only to have the man segue into a whole introduction about the Inn, the rules, the room…..uhhhh should’t I go relieve my husband from the angry locals that may be yelling at him right now?! Luckily when I returned to the car, he and the car were still in one-piece. So we unloaded our bags, Nani, and Papa and set off to wiggle our way out of the tight streets to somewhere we could park for the night (perhaps just another training session for our eventual domination on the Great Race). Once we finally settled in at the inn, it was quite lovely and our earlier stress was washed away with some local beer.
From Nazareth, we head North-East a bit to explored Jesus’ old stomping grounds and retrace his miracles around the Sea of Galilee and Tiberias. We explored the breathtaking church that stands on the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount #TheOriginalTedTalk. The Beatitudes are commemorated in stained glass with a stunning view of the Sea of Galilee from the gardens outside.
Near the foot of the Mount of the Beatitudes are two more churches. The first is the tongue twister: The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes (say that 10 times fast!), where Jesus placed five loaves and two fishes on a stone and… bingo, bango, bongo… they multiplied to feed 5,000 excited listeners.
A few hundred meters away is the Church of the Primacy of St Peter, which is set in a lovely garden right on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. So what happened here you ask? Well this is where Jesus appeared to Peter (and the other apostles) after the resurrection and bestowed leadership: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
Our next stop is Capernaum, which was Jesus’ basecamp during his ministry. As a result it is a bit commercialized but has some beautiful ruins and a unique glass-walled church built over a synagogue from Jesus’ time. Capernaum is mentioned by name 16 times in the Bible and is believe to be where he preached in the synagogue, recruited his early disciples, and healed a person or two.
A little known fact….especially to me….was that most of the churches around the Sea of Galilee close for a siesta between 12-2pm. THINK FAST CHASING DAVIS – to salvage the unplanned down-time, we had a picnic and perused the Korazim National Park. Korazim is an ancient Jewish town which was condemned for not heeding to Jesus’ message…nevertheless, it boasts some impressive ruins of a 4-5th century basalt synagogue, ancient dwellings, an oil-press, and bath. We also saw a rambunctious family of hyrax scamper about the rocks and curiously eye us as we explored.
Back on the path of Jesus….we head south, as Jesus did, to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Our journey was a bit different than Jesus’, we had the luxury of air conditioning and the power of 200 Japanese horses! Jesus on the other hand, hoofed it down the Jordan Valley to Jericho on foot or donkey (Side note: Jericho is believed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world – over 11,000 years!) near the Dead Sea then he hung a right to climb up the Judean Hills to the summit of the Mount of Olives. Let’s stop there for a moment… WWJD… if I were Jesus I would have chilled in the cool therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea or perhaps the exquisite desert palace of Masada before making the trek into the maelstrom that is Jerusalem, which is what we did….
Oh the Dead Sea! Over the last year we have been there over a half-dozen times and it has not lost it’s uniqueness, from its buoyant salt filled waters to its silky smooth mud you always come out feeling rejuvenated! Before we get to some pictures lets fire off some facts:
- The surface of the Dead Sea is 423 meters (1,388 feet) below sea level, making its the lowest point on earth!
- The Dead Sea is 377 meters (1,237 feet) deep!
- The water has a salinity of 34%, for comparison the ocean is 3.5% or nearly 1/10 that of the Dead Sea.
Getting into the Dead Sea is always a bit of a trust fall as you slowly lower yourself to be cradled by a cushion of water. During our frequent visits to the Dead Sea, Matt has become quite the mud harvester and knows exactly where to find the best mud, so much so that he is often swooned after by the older ladies and sweetly talked into harvesting mud for them and their tour group – what a guy.
Okay before we get back to Jesus, lets head south to Masada for some more history… Between 37 and 31 BCE, our boy King Herod decided to build a fortified palace atop Masada complete with a huge palace complex, Roman style baths, an impressive water collection system that collects and channelizes all of the rain fall from the surrounding area into large cisterns, and enough storehouses to last through any length siege. Masada is not famous for the impressive Roman ruins but for the mass Jewish suicide that occurred here in in 74 CE.
If you recall from history class (which I don’t and have taken at least 4 trips up the mountain to remember), the Jews revolted against the Romans in 66 CE, which resulted in the Jewish diaspora from the land of Israel until the War for Independence in 1948. After the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 CE (and destroyed the 2nd temple – more on that later), nearly 1,000 Jews fled to Masada overtook the Roman garrison there and made a desperate last stand. At this time Masada was a plush Roman fortress with a beautiful Northern Palace and enough food and water to last for years. The Roman 10th Legion did not arrive until 72 CE and the remnants of their camps can still be seen today, which are some of the oldest known remnants of the Roman war machine in existence. Masada was naturally well fortified and surrounded by steep cliffs and canyons on all sides. To overcome this the Romans build a massive siege ramp on the Western flank several hundred meters high. As you sit on top of Masada you can imagine the sight of the siege ramp slowly inching up day-by-day. The night before the battering ram was about the breach the walls, the Jewish Zealots decided to commit suicide over Roman enslavement. When the Romans breached the wall the next morning they were met not with a battle but with silence. Today many army units complete their swearing in ceremonies atop Masada vowing “Masada shall not fall again”.
Okay back to Jesus… we left as he was walking up to the Mount of Olives. If you recall, Jesus was making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. As Jesus crested the summit of the Mount of Olives on the first Palm Sunday, crowds greeted him and shouted “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Looking down he could see the beautiful city of Jerusalem with the Second Jewish Temple. It was then he wept and prophesied its future destruction, which occurred in 70 CE during the Great Jewish Revolt mentioned earlier. Today the beautiful teardrop shaped Church of Dominus Flevit marks this spot.
From the Garden of Gethsemane, we followed in Jesus’ footsteps as he carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem stopping at each of the stations of the cross.
To visit last four stations of the cross, we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is like a smorgasbord of churches with all the nooks and crannies filled with chapels from many different sects of Christianity. That being said it is a pretty powerful place especially entering the tomb of Jesus. In the entrance to the church you find the anointing stone, where apostles prepared Jesus’ body for burial. Anything placed on this stone becomes a religious relic, pretty powerful stuff!
Our last stop before we leave Jesus is the Chapel of the Ascension, back on top of the Mount of Olives. According to tradition, this marks the spot where Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after resurrection. It is an unassuming building and like many churches was turned into a Mosque during the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in the 12th century. Today it is a shared worship space.
Editors Note: Most of the sights we visited are from the Catholic tradition. There are many many additional places for other faiths.
During Jesus’ time Jerusalem was only important to Judaism, since Islam and Christianity did not exist yet. However, a lot has happened since Jesus’ time and Jerusalem today is home to some of the holiest sites for the Christian and Muslims (thats A LOT to fit inside a 1 sq km area) . There are enough sites inside the Old City to occupy you for a lifetime….s0, to make the most of our time, we decided to take a few more tours within the Old City to try to understand this busy and dynamic spot.
In classic Chasing Davis fashion and to introduce our parents to The Old City, we decided to start with the Free Walking Tour. This tour covered the four quarters of the Old City – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Armenian. We got a a brief history of the main sites – The Western Wall, Roman Cardio, Dome of the Rock, archeology sites in the Jewish quarter, and the bustling markets. We strolled (aka trying to disguise being lost and confused) around the streets of the different quarters to see what life is like for people living in the Old City. It always amazes me that nearly 37,000 people live WITHIN the walls of the city! This is most apparent after an afternoon Call to Prayer when the Muslim quarter’s tight market-streets flood with people returning home or to their shops – roughly 30,000 people live in the Muslim quarter!
We were lucky enough to find ourselves in Jerusalem on Shabbat (Friday night) – Shabbot marks a day of rest for the Jews from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. In the Old City, hundreds of Jews come to the Western Wall for prayer, singing, and celebration. We decided to try the Shabbat Experience Tour to get a little deeper understanding of the special day and even got to share in blessing and bread breaking at the Western Wall.
To get the full Jerusalem experience, we also made a trip to Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Yad Vashem tells the history of the Holocaust with incredibly moving exhibits, personal items, and accounts of the events that took place leading up to, during, and after the Holocaust. It is a very moving and powerful place about a dark time in history.
Well that’s a wrap for our parent’s Chasing Davis Adventure! It was wonderful to have them visit us and be able to share where we have lived for the last year!
Mom, Dad, Nani, Papa – Thank you SO much for coming! It’s not everyday you get to play tour-guide for your folks! Having the one-on-one time with each of you was so incredibly special! We’ve learned so much from you and wouldn’t be the crazy world-travelers we are today without your endless love and support! Thank you for teaching us to aim high, follow our dreams, and never stop exploring! We love you soooo much and can’t wait to do it again soon in Ireland! Xoxoxo, Matt and Kelley