We packed up the family and went to Israel for a week. With the small children in tow, we weren't terribly adventurous with our itinerary. We stayed for four days in Jerusalem then three days near the Sea of Galilee. It was a fantastic time and was one of the few places that Erynn said she will definitely come back to. In fact, she requires a return visit, and I'm not complaining.
We've currently been living in Germany for about three years and we're slowly ticking off things on our "must see" list. However, traveling with small children is not for the faint of heart. We didn't venture into any of the Palestinian Territories nor into Jordan, which would have been part of our trip had the kids not been along. However, we had a blast and really lucked out on the weather. Typically it rains most days in December and January and we only experienced a couple short, minor showers.
Israel has been on our “to do” list since we lived in England, and now the timing and political situation all aligned to allow the trip. We were there over the New Year's holiday, which marked our third New Year's in a row that we spent in a mostly Muslim area. The previous two being Dubai and Marrakech. Not that that was by design, just something we noticed.
We flew into and out of Tel Aviv from Frankfurt giving us some cool landing cards instead of passport stamps. On the way back we stopped in Athens for a long weekend before heading home. The total trip between Israel and Athens was about 10 days and was unforgettable!
For full resolution photos from the trip to Israel click here.
Finding accommodation in Israel between Christmas and the New Year actually proved a little problematic. We ended up finding a great place that was big and convenient, but cost a fair amount. The apartment building (GPS N31°46.793' E035°13.128') off Hillel Street really was extremely convenient and only a short walk to the Jaffa Gate via the Mamilla Mall. Greta and JB settled right into the two bedroom pad.
The focal point for most tourists is Jaffa Gate. The most convenient route to the gate from out flat was through the Mamilla Mall. Our first day in town we played it pretty low key with a leisurely walk and visiting the Tower of David. Greta didn't get much out of the historical sites we saw, but she sure loved this stupid soccer ball. Since we passed it every day to and from the old city we had to stop and play for minutes on end. Stopping play including a full melt down. Twice a day...
At the end of the mall is a stunning overlook and entrance into Jaffa Gate with the Citadel, including Tower of David, in the background. Family money shot.
The Citadel Museum was pretty cool. We were a bit tired from the travel day and lugging two small kids around, so we didn't spend time reading each of the informative displays. But the sections of the museum walk you through the history of Jerusalem. The walking tour winds itself around the various level of the courtyard. There were big walls so Greta couldn't get that far away from us.
The views of the city from the Citadel walls was fantastic, and the weather on our first day was great. The left photo shows the silver domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The right photo shows the glorious golden dome of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.
In general, Greta was a blast on the trip. While Erynn rested to take care of JB Greta did some exploring. She was insistent that this sign did not apply to her no matter how many languages it was written in!
After a nice afternoon it was time to run the gauntlet back to the apartment. Greta was fascinated by the juice vendors outside of Jaffa Gate. The queen of delay tactics also insisted on pushing the stroller. The bad news for bystanders is that she can't see past the stroller. Then when I was getting some cash she felt the need to move the safety cone. We love her to death.
And for the last photo of the day. What a beautiful family!
On our second day we walked around the Christian Quarter. After strolling around the narrow streets full of vendors with a stroller, we first stopped at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Greta missed the whole thing, but I was able to climb the belfry to get some more shots of the Old City skyline. However, the weather was not as good as the previous day from the Citadel.
Only a couple hundred yards from the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church is built on top of Calvary (Golgotha), where Jesus was killed on the cross. Inside the church are also the last stations along the Via Dolorosa (aka Way of Suffering). The Via Dolorosa was the path Jesus walked through Jerusalem carrying the cross to where he was crucified.
The left photo shows the Stone of Unction (aka Stone of Anointing) just inside the entrance to the Basilica. Tradition holds this to be the spot where Jesus' body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea. Following around to the left is the Rotunda and Aedicule (middle photo). The right photo shows the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre itself (aka tomb where Jesus was buried).
Across from the Aedicule is the Greek Choir which houses the throne of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem (left side of middle photo) and the church's main altar (right photo). During our visit all proceedings were stopped temporarily so a priest could spread incense from the Greek Choir to the Aedicule (left photo).
In the Armenian section of the church and in what seems to be the basement is the Chapel of Saint Helena. Helena is credited with identifying the location of Jesus' crucifixion during her pilgrimage to Palestine. She was also the mother of Constantine the Great.
The left photo shows the Greek chapel for the The Rock of Calvary. The rock can be seen under glass under the altar. Directly beneath the The Rock of Calvary altar is the Chapel of Adam (middle photo). Tradition holds that Jesus was crucified over the place where Adam's skull was buried and the crack in the rock resulted from the earthquake at the time of Jesus' death on the cross. Even Greta felt a little reverence to the significance of the place.
On our third day in town we started off at the Western Wall. Our plan was to check out the Western Wall then walk around the Temple Mount. However, we didn't comprehend when the guidebook said get there early it meant at dawn and wait in line for an hour. More on this later...
The Western Wall Plaza was really special. The span of history in these holy sites is humbling. Read a guidebook or the wiki page if you want a more in depth understanding of the area. But in general, the Temple Mount was the site of the holiest Jewish temple, the Holy of Holies, which refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. After the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and took possession of the Temple Mount and destroyed the temples, the Rabbinate declared that Jews could not enter the Temple Mount for fear of stepping on the Holy of Holies by accident. Therefore, Jews started praying at the Western Wall, which was the closest they could get to the Holy of Holies "safely". Sorry for butchering the history...
The left photo shows Erynn, Greta and JB in the plaza of the Western Wall. The right photo shows the praying areas - left side for men and right side for women. Assuming you cover your head and show respect anyone is welcome to pray at the wall. Erynn and I both took the opportunity.
The left photo shows a bird's eye view of the plaza. The right shows is the opposite direction looking up the hill.
Too bad Greta was so young and couldn't grasp the significance of the place. She was more interested in the pigeons!
There definitely was a security presence in the city and in particular in the Western Wall Complex. However, we never felt unsafe or that the security was overbearing. The only place we had to go through security was at the Western Wall and Temple Mount, and it was a simple metal detector (left photo). More pernicious was the entrance into the Temple Mount. Non-Muslims are only allowed to enter the Morocco Gate just to the left of the Western Wall. On the first two days we thought we got there early enough only to be greeted by a long line and not enough time to get in. The one day we got within 10 feet of the entrance and they just closed the gate. When the gate closed the line was still back to the Dung Gate a couple hundred yards away. My suggestion is get there one hour before the gates open, don't bring any bags and bring your passport. Once you clear security you go up the wooden ramp to the gate that you see in the right photo.
After no succeeding to enter the Temple Mount, we climbed the hill into the Jewish Quarter. There are some nice steps leading from the Western Wall to the Jewish Quarter. This really was the only place that wasn't convenient for the stroller. Overall the city was pretty navigable with the kids. At the top of the stairs and avoiding the people wanted to bless you for a donation, there were some great views of the Temple Mount. Plus there was a lion Greta could ride!
Here's Erynn and JB in front of a sign welcoming us to the Jewish Quarter. They also stopped to pose in front of the Hurva Synagogue.
After grabbing some quick pizza for lunch we walked around a bit more before heading back to the flat. The left photo shows the Cardo Maximus, which was the hub of Roman economic life. Also along our walk we came upon the Broad Wall, which was a fortification wall from the First Temple Period (eighth century BC) - Solomon's Temple. Outside of the Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter was a little anti-climatic.
Anti-climatic for the adults, but not for Greta. She found a playground and there were orange trees everywhere. She had (HAD!) to have one. However, she was extremely disappointed since they were the most bitter tasting this I have ever put in my mouth. We instantly knew why there were still so many on the tree!
On the fourth day in town we thought we were smart. We took a taxi directly to the Temple Mount entrance. However, with two small kids we didn't quite leave the flat at the target time. Here you can see the line we were greeted with. We stood in line just long enough to take this great photo of the southern wall of the Temple Mount before changing plans. The weather was outstanding so we decided to just walk around the Old City - a decision that turned out to be a great idea!
After leaving the old city via the Dung Gate (at the back of the line) we turned left and headed down the hill. Here you can see the Southern Wall again with the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and Davidson Center. For the first half of our walk almost every view was dominated by the Mount of Olives, which is a mountain ridge east of and adjacent to the Old City. It's been used as cemetery for 3,000 years and estimates put it at 150,000 graves on the site. Jews want to be buried there since Jewish tradition holds that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.
Further along the route we came across the Church of All Nations (lower left of left photo) and Church of Mary Magdalene (gold onion domes). The inside of the Church of All Nations had this amazing blue tile work showing symbols of the twelve nations that built the church. The church is also known as the Basilica of the Agony that enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest. Next to the church is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed and there are 2000 year old olive trees.
After leaving the Church of All Nations, the route around the exterior of the walls looked a bit sketchy so we walked toward St. Stephan's Gate (aka Lion's Gate) to enter the city. Just to the left/south of the gate is a Muslim cemetery. The right photo shows the family in the cemetery in front of the Golden Gate. There is quite some history associated with this gate. It is sealed off and used to enter the Temple Mount. It is said that Jesus passed through this gate on Palm Sunday and that the Jewish Messiah would use this gate to enter the city upon his return. The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent sealed off the Golden Gate in 1541. Urban legend has it that Suleiman the Magnificent sealed it off to prevent the Messiah returning. Later Muslims placed the to cemetery there to put yet another obstacle in front of the Messiah from entering.
Just inside St. Stephan's gate and to the south is the Al-Ghazali Square. Here you can see the Minaret of Israel in the background. Greta was only interested in her iPad. We got a lot of strange looks as we pushed her through the city engrossed with her movie.
For the rest of the afternoon, we just strolled around the Muslim Quarter. We stopped briefly at a lovely place for lunch. Everyone loved Greta, and she loved her flat bread in front of Herod's Gate.
JB missed it all...
Having been foiled on the two previous attempts to enter the Temple Mount, I left the family behind and went by myself on the last morning in town.
We were headed up to the
As you enter the Morocco Gate you come upon the Al-Aqsa Mosque and minaret. The name translates to "the Farthest Mosque" and is the third holiest site in Islam behind Medina and Mecca. Muslims believe that Muhammad was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to al-Aqsa during the Night Journey. It is a huge building that can hold over 5,000 people.
Between the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock is the Al-Kas Fountain, which is an ablution fountain used by worshippers for ritual washing of the hands, arms, legs, feet, and face before entry into the mosque.
Here is the south façade of the Dome of the Rock. Eight stairways lead to the platform of the Dome of the Rock, and at the top of the stairs there are slender arches. Muslim tradition states that scales will be hung from the arches at the Last Judgment to weigh people's souls.
To Muslims the Dome covers the sacred rock where Muhammad prayed and went to paradise during his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back to Mecca. It is said that you can see his footprint in the rock where he left the Earth.
The small dome in the left photo is known as the Dome of the Chain. It is a small prayer house and actually pre-dates the Dome of the Rock. The right photo shows the northeast façade. I don't know what the little structure is in the foreground. Email if you know.
Walking around the rest of the Temple Mount was interesting and there were many minarets and gates that non-Muslims couldn't use. The left photo shows the interior of the Western Wall. The right photo shows the school inside the northern wall of the Temple Mount.
The Muslim overseers of the site, the Waqf, apparently perform modifications to the site that make others upset. There are project that track the destruction of various historic artifacts within the site. In the left photo I was swiftly shooed away from looking into the heavy construction within Solomon's Stables. The right photo is a huge stone rubbish pile along the eastern wall.
Here's the view toward the Church of All Nations and Church of Mary Magdalene from the eastern wall of Temple Mount.
As you enter the Temple Mount there are a couple signs stating that according to Torak Law, entering the Temple Mount area is strictly forbidden due to the holiness of the site. However, from time to time Jews do decide to enter the site including these two gentlemen from Canada (left photo) that were in line in front of me. As they went through security they had to wait for armed guards to escort them through the site. You can see them with a guide and three of the four armed guards with machine guns in the background. Maybe it was these guys.
As I exited the Temple Mount I took the right photo showing the line at 9am. None of these people would have made it in before the 10:30am closing since this is only the back half of the line stretching into Dung Gate. Crazy. Did I mention getting there at about 7am?
After our few days in Jerusalem we headed north to the Sea of Galilee area. We found a lovely little cottage just outside of Tiberias (GPS N32°42.659' E035°29.648') in the town of Yavne'el. It was a bit cold to enjoy the pool and not there long enough to schedule a massage with the masseur owner.
On the drive up to the cottage we stopped in the town of Nazareth, which was the childhood home of Jesus. In terms of sites, the town is dominated by the Basilica of the Annunciation. The church has two levels inside. On the lower level is the grotto (right photo) where Mary is said to have received the annunciation from God. The upper level is a more traditional looking church. The grounds are surrounded by a nice wall, which let the toddler run around a bit after being in the car for an hour.
The night we arrived at the cottage we headed into Tiberias, the main town in the area, for dinner and a walk along the promenade on Galilee. Tiberias is a serious tourist resort town with a couple main streets and some brightly lit restaurants. I will say that everywhere we ate the restaurant staff loved the kids and really help cater to them. Not stressful at all traveling with small kids in Israel.
The left photo shows the row of restaurants leading from the downtown to the promenade. The right photo shows Greta on a rowing machine at the Tiberias Rowing Club! (GPS N32°47.104' E035°32.623') She saw the machines and ran right in and jump on. Seriously.
We had a packed day planned after a night's sleep at the cottage. We did a driving tour of the area, and our first stop was the Switzerland Forest. The road is twisty and affords wonderful views of the Sea of Galilee and Tiberias (left photo). Plus, it has a great playground for the kiddos!
an interesting factoid is how far the Sea of Galilee is below sea level - about 210 meters below! This is due to the rift valley that helps form the Jordan Valley. So when you see the view in the left photo we're actually at about sea level. Crazy.
Our next stop was the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus is said to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount. The Franciscan chapel (left photo) was inexplicably closed when we arrived so we didn't go inside. But the hilltop location also gave some more nice views of the Sea of Galilee. There appeared to be a number of banana plantations along all of the hillsides in the area.
A true highlight of our trip was the stop at the Agamon Hula, which is a bird refuge. We rented a golf cart and drove around the lake looking at bird and generally just having fun. The weather was perfect and everyone had a great time. The wildlife consisted mostly of cranes in their thousands and a bunch of muskrats.
On our last day and before heading to our onward destinations of Tel Aviv and Athens we stopped by the Beit She'an National Park. It is located near the Jordanian border and consists of the archeological ruins of a Roman and Byzantine city. The city suffered a devastating earthquake in 749 CE and what you now see are the remaining ruins. The site is extensive with remarkably well preserved ruins and mosaics. Probably one of the best preserved places we've been to.
You can see how extensive the site is via the map Greta is crawling on. She was obsessed with crawling on the map and got us into trouble.
Our last night in the country was spent in Tel Aviv. We had a long week with the kids and basically just crashed at the apartment we rented. The Ben Yehuda Apartments were the only multi-bedroom hotel/apartments we could find. We had an early flight to Athens the next morning and the apartment was nice and serviceable with parking (for a fee). It seemed extremely convenient to the city center. However, my only goal was to find the rowing club and pull some meters for the January Team Challenge. The folks at the Tel Aviv Rowing Club (GPS N32°05.727' E034°46.782') we friendly and let me use a machine for 40 minutes to get my meters done.
On our next visit to the country we'll spend more time checking out Tel Aviv. However, until then our next stop on the 2013/14 winter adventure was a long weekend in Athens!
© 2014 Doug Rathburn