Monday, February 28, 2011

Travels To Jerusalem

Garden Valley residents, Ron and Ruth Richter, have journeyed to Jerusalem to visit their daughter, Ginger, who works and lives in the area. Ron instigated the journal as 'reports to the
home-front', and true to form, Ruth interjects. As they are both adept veterans at getting the most out of life and equal crack-shots on the written page, the GVDN is pleased to introduce the continuing saga of their travels in this far-away place...

(Above left: Ruth, ever the bargain hunter, in the Christian Quarter.)
Day 5 – Wednesday Feb 23

We have been here almost a week now and I guess it’s safe to say that we are “settled in.” We arrived last Saturday about 3:00 p.m. to a sunny cool windy day in Tel Aviv and were met by Ginger. The ride due east to Jerusalem in the car gave us a lay of the land which is very rocky, barren away from irrigation sources, and hilly. Everything is the same color – limestone beige. The first oddity I noticed is that every building is constructed of the same limestone blocks, a law in Israel, so there is a monotonous appeal to everything. What breaks the monotony is the modern architectural style of the buildings. I am reminded of the time I visited Ginger in Mesa, AZ and found almost every home built of adobe stucco with red tile roofs.

Being Saturday and the Shabat Day, traffic was light and many stores were closed. It looked like the Sundays of our youth.

Ginger has a lovely apartment and decorated with “just the right amount of stuff” from the various places she has lived. She has a good eye for balance, color, and space, especially space.

Sunday, G had arranged a quick walk-through of Old Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter. One of her friends from the Consulate gave us a very informative tour of the various churches and highlights, and with that under our belts, we came back to the apt and I took a nice long nap. I love jet lagged naps. They put me in a wonderful deep sleep that I don’t want to come out of. But we were sched
uled to have dinner out so I pulled myself from the depths of REM and off we went to a popular old hotel for a lovely dinner. I had lamp chops of which I did not get enough. Why lambs have to have such small chops on them I do not know.

Monday was our Masada trip day (Presidents’ Day so Consulate was closed). Weather in Jerusalem had been windy and cold and the dust was blowing like crazy. But once out of Jerusalem it cleared up and turned into a delightful sunny and warm day. The ride to Masada down the west coast of the Dead Sea only reinforced that this is one very barren and difficult land. If you can visualize Horseshoe Bend hill with all of the rolling hills to the left and right, take away every trace of living matter, and leave only gravel and rocks, then you can imagine what the countryside looks like. In our Bible study group we had discussed that Jerusalem of old was at the center of the known world’s trade routes. It is difficult for me to imagine anyon
e being able to travel over this land in anything but a tank, but I guess camels have very tough feet.

Masada was exactly what I had expected, a pile of limestone on the top of a mountain about as high as Horseshoe Bend pass, 4,240 ft. Ruthie and I took the tram up but Ginger hoofed it up the zigzag walking path. Ginger and Ruthie walked around and took in the various views while I found a shady bench and took a brief nap. It is hard for me to identify with a pile of stones that I can’t relate to. Now if this had been an old Nez Perce fishing camp along some river, than that would have been different.

What made our Masada trip memorable was that when it came time for us to go home, we piled into the rental car in the garage with the intention of being back home within an hour and a half. Unfortunately, the car wouldn’t start. Rentals here have a push button code system you must use before the car will start. Our car wouldn’t accept the code. So we phoned Budget Rental and they sent someone out (it took 2 hrs for them to arrive) while we cooled our heels waiting. The mechanic came, couldn’t get it started and swapped us his car for ours so we could get home. No big problem, just an inconvenience that one must hang loose about.

Yesterday was a workday for Ginger and we waited for it to warm up a little before we went tripping off into the Old City again. I am rather disappointed in the Old City. To best think of the Old City, think of an acre square, although it is larger than this, divided into quarter sections, one Christian, one Muslim, one Jewish, one Armenian, each with its own characteristic flair. So we walked again through the Christian quarter meandering through narrow, stone, “streets” and alleys lined with merchants. (See photo above) I could almost feel that these crowded “streets” were no different from the time of Christ and that it was easy to imagine Him walking through them. Crowds of people walk by many of which are being led by a tour guide waving his little flag overhead so all would know where he was.

As we walked thr
ough, we would either walk on or pass by the Via Dolorosa where groups of people would be stopped listening to the guide report on the Station of the Cross. Some groups would actually carry a large wooden cross; others would be singing as they went. The last Station ended at the Church of the Sepulcher. (Overview, left) This is the holiest site in the Christian Quarter. Of course it is crowded with people. Do not think of “church” as you have a church in America. If you remember, Golgotha was a hill and Christ was buried in a cave tomb. When Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor, ruled Christianity was good, his wife, Helena, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and began building churches on the holy sites. The tomb was one of those sites. She had the hill whittled away except for a mound over the tomb reinforced with heavy vertical steel beams (see photo below) and then built a church around it. It is adorned with hanging lamps, candlestick holders, tapestries, and other stuff so that there is hardly a bare spot in the tomb. To me it was a sacrilege to see what was done in the name of reverence.

If you walked around the Tomb, there were other small chapel areas and altar areas including the place that supposedly was where Jesus wa
s nailed to the cross, some evidence of an earthquake, and the place where his body was prepared for burial. It was very depressing to walk through all of this in gloomy semidarkness. Instead of giving me the feeling of awe for being in a holy place, it was kind of creepy. I was very disappointed in it all and almost wish I hadn’t witnessed it. It is far better for me to hang on to the memory of what I thought it looked like. I guess that is the way most good memories are.

Today, Wednesday, Ruthie and I will go through the Old City again and take in a different quarter. Since we will leave tomorrow for a long weekend in Petra, Jordan, I think we will head to the Temple Mount in which is the Dome of the Rock and the large Muslim Temple. That will be the topic of the next writing.

Day 7 – Petra trip

Thursday morning, we’re off to Petra, Jordan. This ancient city carved out of the mountainside like the Cliff Dweller Indians of the southwest, is all the way down and then some of the east side of the Dead Sea. So off we go by taxi to the Israeli-Jordan border crossing gate on the northern tip of the Dead Sea. Getting through the Israeli side was not a problem and after getting our passports stamped, we boarded a fancy humongous tour bus which drove us about a quarter of a mile to the Jordanian gate. In-between, we crossed the Jordan River that flows from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Right there at the border it is a pathetic little muddy stream and one cannot imagine that anyone would want to be baptized in it. I am sure that before dams and reservoirs were put on the river, it was a free flowing waterway and was a much prettier body of water.

So we are now through with a minimum of difficulty and are in Jordan. {Ron forgot to note that we had expended a fair amount of cash at this point, to the Jordanian government for the privilege of entering their country.} A short walk to the Avis rent-a-car place (I’m guessing Avis would be embarrassed to see their name displayed on such a place) where we rented a beat up Chevy with good tires and then off we went with our trusty map marked with the route to take down-country. Well, to make a long and bumpy story short, the map was well marked but the roads and highways were not. We did finally get there and it probably took us only twice as long as it should have, but we got there. In her defense, Ginger did an outstanding job of driving, but Ruthie did the best she could with the navigating. We did arrive and got checked in to our very pleasant all stone hotel room, headed straight to the bar for gin and tonics and then a super buffet dinner.

Ron opted out of the evening festivities, but Ginger and I went to Petra for the candlelit walk to the Treasury Building – one mile through the Sikh, which is the tunnel with the towering rock on either side. It was lit all the way by candles set in sand in paper bags and, amazingly, most of those candles continued to burn the whole time we were there – several hours. Had I been able to see better, I would have known the walk coming back was going to be difficult for me. It was a gradual downhill all the way. When we got to the Treasury Building, they had hundreds of candles set out across the courtyard area. There were several performances for us, of a man on a stringed instrument singing along and then a flute-like instrument, both of which were excellent but seemed to be one theme played over and over (did I say over and over?) again. Then there was a “story teller” who basically commented on the quote, “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” His thought was that, yes, in actuality we could meet and he asked one representative from every country who was there that night to come up and stand beside him, signifying we could all come together and be friends; there were an amazing number of countries represented. They even served us hot tea while we watched the performance. Ginger and I (she, too) struggling, made the walk back, taking considerably longer to get there. }

The next morning, Friday, we were up early, mostly because the idiot crier in the mosque tower was screaming his head off at 4:30. I am convinced he was screaming that he hated to get up so early in the morning and climb these dumb stairs. We lingered for an hour or so more in bed trying to go back to sleep, but finally gave up on it and got up. After a delightful breakfast we were off to the ancient city.

And what a city it is! The Nabataens carved out the mountainsides for these enormous buildings and caves for their homes approximately 2000 years ago. To get to the city you have to go through this narrow passageway and you come out at the Treasury, the most majestic site in the city. (Photo, left) Then down the cobblestone way to other buildings and ruins all built out of the mountainous sandstone.

Although Ruthie and I travelled by horse-drawn carriage and Ginger went by camel, it was a strenuous day. Certainly our behinds will verify that. But it was a most marvelous day spent, and we got back to the room and went straight to the Turkish steam bath to soak out the soreness.

Although we were planning to stay and visit the ruins again on Saturday, we decided to call it a trip and head for home. So off we go in the rental car but this time we are on the correct highway and the drive back to the border crossing took a fraction of the time. However, the border-crossing process made up for the time. I bet we had our passports scrutinized at least 25 times and that was after getting some preferential treatment because we were westerners and not locals. What a process! When we did get back home, we were beat. A glass of wine, beer, and G & T gave us an uplift so we could head to the bed for a nap. (Above: Ruth & Ron Richter, connoisseurs of good company.)

{Observation} – The interior of Jordan is flat and bone dry desert. Occasionally, there is an area of rolling hills. It is very much like the Great Plains in western Kansas or Nebraska, and always windy and very dusty. {Ron says like western Kansas but I’m guessing even in the Dust Bowl years, Kansas never looked this gosh awful forsaken, and I’m not saying that just to be loyal to Kansas.} The countryside along both sides of the Dead Sea is very hilly with small mountains. It is bleak desert except along the very edge of the Sea that is irrigated. I could only wonder that when Jesus was baptized and was taken to the top of the mountain where the devil told him, “If you worship me, you can have all of this land,” why in the world would Jesus have wanted it? It was not much of a temptation.

{Ron doesn’t relate the fun and games of the border crossings coming and going. Going, it cost us a small fortune to get out of Israel and both ways the cost to ride the Jordanian bus for the mile or so of no-man’s land was about $20 per person. Never mind we had to wait to ride that bus for about 45 minutes and once we were on it, coming and going, it stopped three times, once to have us scrutinized with our passport pictures, once to have the metal detector run under the bus, and once, just 'because', as nearly as I could see. Coming back, we were told we needed to hurry, it was the last bus of the day (Saturday, their holy day) and then the process went on and on with them taking up an endless amount of time and once we’re finally on the bus, still we sit there and wait for who knows what. When we got to the Israeli side, it seemed we were moving along reasonably quickly and hustled ahead of folks because we were “tourists”, but then Ron set off the metal detector with all of his artificial parts (wonder of wonders, I didn’t) and they hauled him off to a little curtained room where he proceeded to strip down to his underwear and was preparing to get buck-naked, when they decided they’d seen enough – I can relate! Meanwhile, there are Israeli “secret police” everywhere scurrying hither and yon, and one of them decided we were his special case, harassed Ginger about something or other and never let us out of his sight until we were completely through the process. Even then, several times these plainclothes people came up to us and asked us what our problem was since we appeared to be “loitering” and not getting in a taxi or a bus and getting off their turf. It’s all kind of amusing if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but truly a royal pain in the rear. }

Day 8, Sunday.

We went to church this morning for a very nice service and communion. Then we leisurely walked through a section of Jerusalem called the German Colony. I don’t know why it is called this because I saw nothing that was German. We ate at an Italian restaurant.
{I’m sure it’s called the Germany Colony because at one time in Jerusalem’s history it’s where the German people lived, just as there is the American Colony Hotel here that was begun by Americans and still controlled by that same family.}

Then home for the afternoon


  1. Thanks Ron and Ruth,

    A great travel story, thank you. Be safe.


  2. What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing

  3. There is plenty of information available about Masada. It's a horrible story of the persecution jews endured. It's been going on for 5,000 years and it continues today.