Well, I\’m almost to the end of our journey and it has taken me months to go through and process it all. Thank you for indulging me in my long and drawn out trips through memory lane in the Holy Land. I\’m almost done!
Tasting Exotic Fruit: Open Air Market at The Shuke
Our last day in Jerusalem was more of a half-day, because we had an evening flight and had to be at the airport around 2 or 3. So it was our last opportunity to squeeze in all the things we weren\’t able to on the previous days.
The first Israel experience we had yet to experience was the open air market at the Shuke. This is where Jessa and Rodolfo go grocery shopping! Like the Old City, there are shops everywhere you turn and people trying to (loudly) sell their products, but there was a much greater focus on food rather than souvenirs. You want tahini or hummus? Raw almonds (that taste like very tart fruit)? The best Rugulach in town? This is the place to get it. It\’s lively. It\’s vibrant. It\’s conservatively Jewish. It\’s Israel.
|The Open Air Market (The Shuke)|
|Delicious Exotic Fruit!|
We used this opportunity to pick up an exotic fruit cup (well exotic to us, maybe not to the Israelis). Israel has a decent amount of farmland and produce a lot of their own food themselves. Some of the fruits were familiar (is that pineapple and melon?) but others, like the dragon fruit, the star fruit and I-have-no-idea-what-I-just-ate fruit were a first for both Evan and I. I am supremely glad I have no known allergies because there is something so satisfying about biting into an unknown piece of fruit in an open air market in a foreign country. It just feels so authentic. However, this was not the time to sit and savor because our time was limited, so most of our munching was performed zigzagging in and out of crowds who are just trying to get their weekly produce.
The Red-Headed Step Child of the Israel Museum: Rockefeller Museum w/ The Source Scavenger Hunt
Our destination was the Rockefeller Museum, a place that Amelia called \”The Red-Headed Step-Child of the Israel Museum\”. It\’s one of Israel\’s history museums, but unlike the Israel Museum, it is not nearly as robust. I guess when they built the Israel Museum, this museum got neglected and didn\’t look like it had been updated since the 60\’s. Even the placards (paper on the wall) looked like they had been typed with an old-fashioned typewriter. Amelia and Nathan never quite made it to this cultural gem, but we would not let that fate befall us.
|Ancient figurines of a Goddess
(possibly the Ancient Greek Goddess Astarte seen in the book)
I have mentioned several times that I read James Michcner\’s The Source before I came here and in the book, the main characters are working on an archaeological site. They find a variety of things (as one often would in an archaeological site) dating back to the beginning of civilization and each subsequent chapter features one of the artifacts and a story about the period in time that artifact was from. Jessa, having read The Source as well took it upon herself to create a little scavenger hunt at the museum, trying to find artifacts that most closely resembled the artifacts in the book. It was fun, seeing real life versions of the little goddess statues, or the ancient glass, or the different coins. There is so much more history in Israel than America (at least preserved history), it is cool to see truly ancient things (like the skull of the oldest human found in the area.
|Found skeleton in a burial position|
Probably the coolest part about the museum was an ancient burial site (multiple people buried there) that they just so happened to stumble upon when they were building the museum. It just goes to show you that ancient history is rampant in Israel and if you want to be an archaeologist there is probably nowhere else in the world you would rather be. I was also very impressed with the intricate wooden carvings used to decorate doors. How the wood survived so long, I have no idea.
You Can Sleep In Indiana: Christ the Redeemer Lutheran Church Bell Tower and Archaeological Site Below
Our next last minute trip was to the Lutheran Church, something that seemed appropriate given that Evan is a former Lutheran. I think this might be the only Protestant church in Jerusalem. Yes, there are many factions of Catholic / Orthodox churches, but not so much of a Protestant presence. Of course, Lutherans (being the first Protestants, really) would be the one Protestant religion to have a church here, so we wanted to see it. That and there is a tall bell tower that has some great views.
We walked into the church and it really couldn\’t be any more different than most of the other churches we had been to in the area. While the Catholic and Orthodox churches are insanely ornate with lanterns and images all over the place, the Lutheran church was starkly plain and pretty free from any kind of decoration. This is most likely due to the Protestants generally feel like all the artwork / statues / icons that the Catholic Church has all over the place are a form of idolatry (graven images). Also, Protestants tend to focus on the mind/internal rather than experiencing religion on a body/external level. I guess the idea is that a lot of imagery is a dangerous distraction to what it is all about.
|Christ the Redeemer Lutheran Church|
Before we went up to the tower, we decided to go down to the archaeological site below the church, because, you know, that\’s the standard practice for visiting a church in Israel. This archaeological site was more set up like a museum, with placards and an interactive light illumination as a disembodied voice explained the different layers of dirt. The lowest level represents a previous quarry, which supports that Golgotha would have been \”the rejected stone\”. Over time, gardens replaced the quarry thus giving the name \”Garden Gate\” to where Jesus walked through at the time of his crucifixion. This might also have something to do with the \”Potter\’s Fields\”, but my memory fades me.
|Stairs for Days|
Now was the time to go up and up and up and up. There is a small winding staircase that can only fit one person at a time and it goes up for what seems to be forever. At first you think, this isn\’t so bad, I\’m young. I\’m healthy. I\’ve been walking around Israel for the last 2 weeks. I got this. And then somehow you get to the point where your glutes are burning and you realize that the walking around for the last two weeks have tired you out and maybe the view isn\’t that great. But by this point you are trapped. with a comrade in front and another behind and no room to go anywhere else, you keep going.
To motivate ourselves through the endless steps I kept telling Jessa that she can sleep in Indiana when she moves back in a few months. Israel is no place to rest. There is (thank goodness) a halfway floor where you can stop climbing stairs, which we took a bit of a break at. We also had to take a break because the one-person staircase had a group coming down. This group looked maybe in their 60\’s? Let\’s just say, I felt embarrassed at my lack of physical prowess that these 60 year old men had traversed to the top and were on their way back down. By golly, I\’m still in my 20\’s. If they can do it, surely I can to.
We finally made it to the top and the views were beautiful.
|View from the tower of the Holy Redeemer church.|
The Best Falafel in the Whole Wide World: Our Last Meal in Jerusalem
By this time, we were starting to cut it close. We had to get home so we could answer the phone to confirm our airport pickup shuttle would pick us up. (Like the cable company, they say we\’ll be there between 10 and 2…if you don\’t answer….we don\’t come). Jessa and Rodolfo don\’t have cellphones or a car for that matter, so answering that phone call was very important to our getting to the airport on time. We raced across the city and decided (last minute) that despite the rush, there still might be time for one more falafel wrap in Jerusalem. While Jessa ran upstairs to wait for the impending phone call (we didn\’t miss it thank goodness), I ran over to the falafel place near their house that has, to my understanding, the best falafel wraps in Jerusalem (and thus the world). When I got there I was immediately greeted by a bunch of kids (maybe 20?) whose class seemed to be eating here for lunch. I did not have time for this. I ran in, barely unable to catch our breath and I blurted out that we were about to leave for the airport and I just had to have one more falafel wrap before I went. The worker took pity on me and let me cut in front of like 7 kids who were still trying to figure out what they wanted.
We made it. The phone call was answered, the falafel was eaten, our bags were packed. We effectively did everything in Israel that I could think of. We said our goodbyes to Jessa (Rodolfo was still at work) and piled into the shuttle. Our trip was almost over. We were going home.
That\’s a German Last Name, Isn\’t It?: The Israeli Airport
The Israeli airport is a bit intimidating. There are several points of security and you get question multiple times. Not to mention it was crowded. The first thing we noticed was that Italians don\’t seem to understand the concept of \”line\”. A group of Italians behind us in the queue proceeded to crowd in on us (and others) because the rope is more of a suggestion I guess. We Americans line up pretty orderly even when there isn\’t explicit instructions. For example, on the bus route closest to my house, there is always a line (not a mob) waiting to get on the bus. I have never seen one person cut in that line or crowd one another. There isn\’t even a reason that they make a line. It just happens that way and there is an unspoken rule that you stand in the line.
Anyways, we eventually get up to the first checkpoint. I hand the woman my passport, she glances at it, maybe for a second, and then gives it back to me indifferently. I\’m through. She then looks at Evan\’s.
\”Where are you going?\”
\”Back home to the US.\”
\”That last name, it\’s German?\”
**At this moment, Evan\’s eyes get wide and scared. Jews don\’t tend to like the Germans…*
\”I\’m from America. My whole family has been in America for several generations. I\’ve lived in America my whole life.\” Evan is starting to ramble, obviously nervously, and probably providing way more information than the guard really cares to hear.
The guard then looks at the luggage we have, including a green army bag that we agreed to bring home for Jessa and Rodolfo.
\”Are you in the military?\” she questions Evan.
Evan\’s confused at first, and still flustered, but then realizes its because of the bag.
\”Oh, no. I just have this bag. It\’s a good bag to carry things with.\”
She let\’s him go.
The next guard (pretty much right before you enter the terminal) questions us again.
I go first. I get a glance at my passport and an indifferent shrug.
\”Are you an Israeli citizen?\”
Evan is totally taken aback. He literally just handed this guy an American passport. \”No\” Evan stammers. He clearly wants to get on this plane already.
Needless to say, my French last name seemed to fare better than my husband\’s German one.
The Barcelona Airport Needs to Work On Their Signage: Barcelona, Spain
On our way home, we had a ~12 hour layover in Barcelona, Spain, We arrived in the late evening, around 11pm, which didn\’t give us many options to actually see Barcelona. Pretty much our main objective was to get to the hotel. And what a journey that was. One: I speak no Spanish, so Evan had to pretty much do all communication. However, his Spanish is more of the \”Mexican\” flavor, so even that wasn\’t super great. Two: unlike most places I\’ve been before, some of the airport workers really didn\’t speak English very well. Three: The signs were incredibly confusing. I swear, we probably walked around for a good 30 minutes to find where our shuttle for our hotel was supposed to pick us up and once we got there, it probably took another 45 minutes for the shuttle to actually get to us. Needless to say, by the time we made it to the hotel, it was way too late for the paella that Evan craved or even relaxing at the hotel bar. The plus side, the hotel was beautiful and very comfortable and really exuded the European luxury vibe.
It was worth it, too, because the next morning, not only were we well rested, but we were also treated to a pretty expansive breakfast buffet, complete with breads, cheese, pastries, eggs, and even churros. It was a nice way to relax before our final trip to Texas.
Home Again Home Again: The Trip of a Lifetime
Before we knew it we were back at home, giving gifts to our families from the Holy Land and reminiscing about all our adventures. Going through our pictures really allowed us to appreciate all that we had seen in the whirlwind of a trip we had just participated in. In truth, this trip was certainly the trip of a lifetime. I wouldn\’t want to go to the Holy Land in any other capacity than what we did, with close friends who intimately knew the area, I had no idea how beautiful Israel could be and I really didn\’t understand the setting where all these Biblical stories happened. It put a real and human aspect to stories that have always had a sense of lore and fantasy. It was also an amazing experience of friendship. I truly believe there is nothing more beautiful in the world than hysterically laughing with friends at a small restaurant in Jish. No church architecture in the world can compare to the beauty and simplicity of watching a sunset on the Mediterranean with my lovely husband. So while the trip involved so much of looking at specific places, the places are only important because of the human stories that evolved in those spaces. From the stories in the bible to the stories of the pilgrims whose crosses are etched in the walls of the Holy Sepulcher to the stories and memories I have of our pilgrimage in Israel, they are important because of the lives they have impacted. I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to go and to have these memories for the rest of my life.
Thank you for letting me share this journey with you.