“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; HE has Risen!"
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark...Geoff woke me up to go to an Easter sunrise service.
Easter morning is the only day of the year that I am willing to rise before the sun. It's worth it on Easter.
We attended service on the Mount of Olives, sitting on the grassy hillside, waiting for daybreak.
Though clouds hid the sun from view, we knew without a doubt that The Son, was Risen indeed.
It was hard to grasp the reality that we were sitting so close to where this beautiful story first came to life, not far from where we sat. We had heard that streets would be closed and areas blocked off for crowd control near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - we decided to attempt to get as close to the site of the ancient tomb as possible.
"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus...suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them,
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; HE has Risen!"
Friday is always a busy day in Jerusalem. It is the weekly holy day for Muslims, the preparation day for Shabbat for Jews, and today it was Good Friday for Christians. This is Holy Week for Christians, and Jews are simultaneously celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread, following Pesach, or Passover. Jerusalem is crowded.
We are generally inclined to avoid crowded sites on holidays, when tourists and pilgrims fill the Old City streets to bursting. However, Geoff's oldest sister sent us an email beautifully pleading for us to walk the Via Dolorosa on this Good Friday, as she would if she were here. We know there are many others who feel that way as well, and this inspiration kept us from taking for granted that we could visit anytime. We headed into the crowded city.
The Via Dolorosa (Way of Grief, or Suffering) is the traditional path that Jesus walked on his way to be crucified. This path that you may have seen on the History/Discovery channel or other runs a marked, well-worn trail through the Old City of Jerusalem. It doesn't date to the time of Jesus, but to Crusader time period (around the 13th century) and has endured many changes over the years.
The actual route is quite possible to figure out based on geography and culture, but the Via Dolorosa follows traditions more than historical accuracy. At the 5th station, for example, a well worn stone is said to be where Jesus placed his hand to steady himself. Though many share that this is simply tradition, we've also seen far too many guides point this out to trusting tourists as the real deal, which is frustrating to say the least. That's the down side. On the positive side - this IS a walk that pilgrims and followers of Christ have walked for hundreds of years in honor of their L-RD Jesus Christ, and is an amazing discipline of memory and love for the Savior.
The final stations of the cross are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Holy Tomb), which is the traditional site of Jesus crucifixtion, death, and resurrection. Again, "traditional" is a loaded word in this part of the world. There are strong and weak traditions - this site is actually an incredibly strong, and very old tradition dating to 335 A.D. The current church is Crusader but the site, on top of an ancient quarry and outside the 1st century city walls, is very likely the actual, sacred place. Though I really don't like all the pomp and circumstance of the structure that has been built and re-built over this Holy site, it is nonetheless an inspiring place to be.
Easter has always been the most sacred day of the year for me; how could it not be? The death, burial, and resurrection story of Jesus is an incredible one, even for non-believers and scholars due to the cultural circumstances, the feasts that it coincided with in Judaism (and fulfilled), and the incredible movement that followed, known as "The Way," or today, as Christianity.
I am so thankful for the encouragement we received to make the most out of our opportunity to be in Jerusalem on such an Awesome day in history. Though we've walked many parts of it before, we walked the entire Via Dolorosa today and were blessed by the experience. It was worth all the crowds and hassle, and this is already my favorite Easter ever. I have been anxiously anticipating celebrating Easter here, in the very place it happened. We followed groups singing praises to our Savior down the Via Dolorosa, worshiped with them in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where throngs of people gathered at the site of his crucifixion, and tomb. The singing of Franciscan monks filled the church while we were there in the most beautiful serenade. So thankful. He is Risen.
Slideshow of Via Dolorosa and Holy Sepulchre on Good Friday
Geoff and I arrived in Egypt early Thursday morning after an all-night layover in Istanbul. This allowed us to see the Giza pyramids right away on the first day. We spent that night at a wonderful guest house, caught up on much needed sleep, and were able start bright and early Friday to see other sites around Cairo.
We traveled to Egypt for two primary reasons: Giza pyramids, and the Cairo Museum. Friday was museum day. After the thoroughly frustrating camera strip search up on entry, that was poorly executed by the disorganized staff (which I responded to with less grace and some strongly voiced opposition) we finally made it in. Their manner of dealing with people was highly unprofessional to say the least, and ultimately ineffective as we noticed multiple people taking photos once inside.
The Cairo museum is impressive, simply because they've got quite a wealth of Egyptian history on display. From SEVERAL royal mummies, pharaoh's included, to sarcophagi, to King Tut's treasure; there are many wonders to behold. Unfortunately, the impressive side of this museum is shadowed by its incredibly poor presentation and lack of organization. They have some of the most incredible museum artifacts in the world, yet it feels like you are sorting through a flea market. Items are displayed upside down, sideways, mostly without labeling of any kind. Many items are so reconstructed you can't tell what was original and what is the artist's idea. Coming from Israel and having spent extraordinary hours on a photograph catalog of the well-run Israel Museum, this was frustrating at best. Thankfully, Geoff has studied an incredible amount of the things in the museum so even in its disorganized state, we got a lot out of it.
After looking at the pyramids and studying the lengths the ancient Egyptians went to secure a proper burial for their pharaohs, it was eerie to see their mummies displayed side by side in clear plastic boxes for tourists. Now, King Tut's treasure was pretty incredible to see. His tomb was the smallest found by far (as we later realized first-hand in the Valley of the Kings), and still the wealth found in his previously undisturbed tomb is incredible. Parts of the treasure are in various other museums as well, and what was on display filled a significant area. One of the biggest highlight's for Geoff was seeing the Merenptah Stele, a huge inscribed stone tablet which is to-date the oldest recorded (original) reference of the Israelites as a people. Geoff spent a lot of time trying to memorize this stone; I'm sure he cried inside that photos weren't allowed.
Sakkara Burial Grounds
We spent several hours at the museum, but left in time for one more adventure. We hired a driver and were off to the oldest pyramids in Egypt at Sakkara.
To be clear, there are a LOT of pyramids in and around Egypt. Well over 100 have been found (so far; there is a lot of sand here...), though I can't find a good enough source to quote an exact number. Sakkara hosts a vast ancient burial ground, with 17 pyramids including the most famous Step Pyramid of Djoser. They also have a small, yet incredibly well presented and organized museum at the entrance that was quite refreshing to see, and not to be missed.
Most of the pyramids at this site are showing their age, some more than others. The best part of this site is the abundance of hieroglyphics in the burial chambers you can explore. I took hundreds of photos at this site - almost entirely of the hieroglyphics. I'll spare you the majority, but here's a small percentage I've managed to sort through for you to experience it yourself:
Slideshow of Sakkara (Saqqara)
Rooftop view of Giza pyramids
Our first stop, and primary motivation for our journey to Egypt, were the ancient pyramids of Giza.
We stayed at a guest house that reportedly offered the best possible view of the pyramids without being on top of one - they were right. We were literally on the same street as the entrance to the pyramid area. The roof was flat and the perfect place for viewing the pyramids away from the the vendors and noise below.
There weren't many tourists around, fewer than when I was there 7 years ago, anyway. There were, however, just as many vendors and people shouting, grabbing, pleading with you to buy whatever they were selling, following you as "guides," and begging to take your picture for "bakshish" - tips. This is exhausting.
I didn't get nearly as many pictures as I wanted up close to the pyramids, primarily because we couldn't stand still or we were all but assaulted. It was sad; tourism is down. They genuinely are in need, but we were ill-equipped to respond and "no, thank you" attracted more attention - ignoring was the best (though still not very effective) method, but this was hard on us because we felt we were being rude and uncaring. This was the situation all around Egypt, in some areas more than others.
That reality is necessary to understand to explain why we were riding horses and not camels around the pyramids. You may remember that my first priority was to get Geoff up on a camel, a middle-east initiation he has somehow managed to avoid all these years. Alas, he still has not ridden a camel, much to my chagrin.
We were surrounded by people begging us to choose their services; horses were all around, no camels in sight at that point. We really just wanted to get away from the crowds as quickly as possible. That, and horses really are much more comfortable than the desert dinosaurs.
We rode to the back hillside for the panoramic view of the pyramids. Finally, we had at least a little more peace to enjoy the stillness of the desert, and to absorb the overwhelming presence of the pyramids. The Great Pyramid, the largest of all, is the oldest and only remaining of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. As the ancient Arab proverb says, "Man fears time, time fears the pyramids."
Bedouin trying to talk Geoff into climbing...
With very few tourists there, everything was for sale - even climbing the pyramids themselves. Now, I will neither confirm nor deny whether or not Geoff climbed the smaller of the three pyramids. That would be so against his archaeological "preserve the site" morality, no matter how fun it sounds. Not that it seems all that possible to hurt these things - they're as solid as a huge pile of perfectly fitted rocks.
Besides, it's technically illegal, and anyone who knows Geoff knows he can't stand to even speed a few miles over the speed limit. Had he climbed it, I bet he would have thought it was much bigger than he first realized by the time he got to the top, and his legs would have been sore for days. Those stones are huge, it's no wonder there's such a mystery of how they were put in place.
The best experience of all came at night. There is a light show at the pyramids, and our roof offered a better view than those paying to sit down below. To make it even more perfect, our wonderful guest house host ordered dinner from a nearby restaurant and had the most delicious Egyptian style meal delivered to us on the roof. With generous tip included, especially in this culture, we spent about $15. They ordered the food, put it in dishes, brought up a table, drinks, etc. Hospitality beyond words. Best. Date. Ever.
The light show is fun, and dinner in addition made us feel like royalty. We got to have this dinner and light show experience three times on the roof though we only stayed there our first and last nights in Egypt, as they served us our second night before we caught our all night train to Luxor.
We saw a lot in Egypt, these are just pictures and stories from the Giza pyramids. We traveled to other pyramids, and followed the Nile river down to Luxor to get the most out of our time in Egypt. More stories and pictures to come - for now, we hope you enjoy the slideshow of the Giza Pyramids below:
I calculate days by sleep - midnight means nothing to me. This means that from the time we woke up in Cairo Monday morning, until we finally got to bed in Jerusalem that night (technically early Tuesday morning) was one long, travel day.
It was a great day.
We woke up in Cairo, enjoyed breakfast overlooking the pyramids, and visited with our new "friends" before heading to the airport. We flew with Turkish airlines, our new favorite airline. They were amazing.
Our flight arrived in Istanbul around noon and we began our 12-hour layover adventure in Turkey. Istanbul is now one of our all time top favorite cities. We don't really enjoy cities, rural charm always trumps urban chaos for us, but Istanbul was truly impressive. After we'd had all the fun we could get (aka - got too cold at night), we headed back to the airport to catch our 1 a.m. flight to Tel Aviv.
We arrived around 3:30 a.m., hoping to be allowed entry to Israel without any issue. With their necessarily high security we've experienced their reputation for serious interrogation upon entry more than once. Instead, the guy checking us through looked as tired as we felt, barely acknowledged our existence, and without uttering even a quiet "shalom," issued our new 3 month tourist visa and we were on our way. Best entry ever. I credit the holiday - it is Pesach (Passover) today. Hag Pesach Sameach - Happy Passover Feast!
The best, most affordable way to get to Jerusalem after arriving on your own in Tel Aviv, is to take the Sherut (a.k.a. "Nesher"). These 10 passenger vans take you to most desired addresses in and around Jerusalem. They don't leave until they are full (in our experience) which was unfortunate because we were the first to crawl in at 3:30 this morning. We were the first on the van, but our address is the furthest from Jersualem proper, closer to Bethlehem, so we were the last stop. We made it home just after the sun came up.
It was a long, 3 country day. We had a great trip, traveled hard, and are glad to be back in Jerusalem for "Holy Week." Now I've got a LOT of photos to edit and will be posting details and pictures of our adventure soon. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers as we've traveled, considering all we undertook and the cultures we crossed, it went supernaturally smoothly. Here are a few sneak peak pictures from the three countries we traveled in one day - details on each to come!
I know, surprise, surprise - we're heading to Egypt! My eyes are blurry from all the travel options by land and air that we have quickly evaluated in the last day or so. Geoff's mentor needs him back sooner than we expected so we had to get out of town (and return) asap!
We loved all the suggestions, so thank you very much. I now have even more places (and people) I am longing to see. I was certain we would end up in Jordan but couldn't let Geoff miss a second opportunity to see the pyramids, now could I?
I am so excited about going back to Egypt. Though I give Geoff a hard time for missing out on this adventure last time - it's just because it's one I've always wanted to share with him. Almost 7 years and a few bizarre circumstances later - we're on our way! We got a great deal on a last minute flight before we watched prices sky rocket. We'll pay for it with the commute, I think. We fly out tonight, spend ALL night in Istanbul's airport (unless I can talk Geoff into a late night Turkey adventure) and will be in Cairo at 9 a.m. on the sundial. See what Geoff has to say about how great it is already. I think he's excited.
I would have preferred a couple more days to plan, and we are already running low on sleep in anticipation of an all night stay in the airport. Then we arrive in Cairo in the morning; that city took a lot of energy to navigate in '06 and we've heard something about it being a bit crazier these days. (How's that for tongue in cheek)
We aren't worried about the security in Egypt. One because we understand from experience the difference between media and real life, and two because we do our best to take every possible precaution when travelling. Things happen, but we stay aware and will be intentional during all of our travel negotiations and adventures.
We have a good contact in Egypt, are splurging on a real hotel for at least the first night while we get our bearings (and SLEEP!), but after that will most likely move to the more character filled budget lodging options. Bring it on!
The last time I went to Egypt we took a bus to the southern tip, and shared a taxi across the Sinai. That route is closed now, making ground travel very difficult and higher risk. So we won't be crossing the border where I was practicing walking like an Egyptian in the first photo in 2006. We're getting fancy now, arriving at the airport. I may even recreate the sphinx kissing photo above. I think this picture is why Geoff fell in love with me originally; said he liked my neck in the picture. Weird, yes, but I'll take what I can get. Maybe this time I'll just kiss Geoff instead.
Even with flying, it will take us about 17 hours of travel from the time we leave our apartment to landing in Egypt - and we think we're tired now. 2 flights. Have I mentioned I don't really like flying? I do like traveling. It's a challenging complex.
Looking forward to our adventure - we hope to have internet to post short updates. Expect some serious photos in a week. We plan/hope to be back in Jerusalem Monday night/early Tuesday a.m. Now I have to go make a hotel reservation so we have at least one thing planned for this last minute trip. Then we're going to make like baby Jesus and head outta here! Egypt - here we come.
As mentioned in my last post, we have to leave the country for a few days, but I didn't see that on this weeks agenda. Then yesterday happened.
Long story short full of details I really can't mention, we found out yesterday that we needed to leave ASAP - that very afternoon implied! Now, I'm all for spontaneity, but I do relish a bit of planning and wasn't really up for border jumping on that particular rainy afternoon - especially having been at the museum taking pictures since 7 a.m. Things calmed a bit and we are still here, but are working to determine the most efficient, economical, QUICK plans possible. More on that to come.
In the meantime, I had my fill of navigating travel logistics today and begged Geoff to venture downtown for the "Sounds of the Old City" music fest going on in Jerusalem from March 18-21st. If you're reading this blog and live near Jerusalem - go enjoy it!
It was "by far the coolest thing I have ever done in this city." (Name that movie.)
This music festival highlights the music of the cultures in the Old City. There are four Quarters in the Old City; the Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, and Armenian (Christian) Quarter.
Bands were set up in a loop around the Old City and we had so much fun wandering these beautiful, old, windy streets, enjoying all kinds of musical talent. I'm pretty sure my favorite part was turning a corner and hearing a full on Hebrew version of "O Susanna!" Foot traffic got congested for that one as crowds stopped to enjoy the ironically beautiful version of this southern American classic - in the heart of Old City Jerusalem, of all places.
We had a fabulous evening; it really was the best time I've ever had in the old City. Though distinct cultures were represented through music, it was amazing to see so many people coming together to enjoy one another's music. This is a hard feat in this tense city, but music brings people together in amazing ways This was evidenced over and over again tonight as people of every religion and background enjoyed the "sounds of the Old City" together. People laughing, dancing, and smiling surrounded us from every religious/cultural expression - beauty at its finest.
For picture lovers, here's a slide show of our well spent evening out:
You know how they used to count time by "many moons?" Well, it's now been 3 Pope's since I was at the Vatican in Rome. I think that means Geoff should take me back, don't you? Great, glad we're all in agreement.
Coincidentally, we do have to leave the country in the next couple of weeks to renew our 3 month tourist visa. We're hopeful that they let us back in. Would be most convenient.
We have counted our dollars and have to leave the country, stay out for a few days, and get back in on as little as possible. Where would you go??
Jordan is the closest/easiest/cheapest option, and happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. Petra anyone?? (Think Indiana Jones, but so much more fun.) But, we have done that before and new adventures are always on my radar. Geoff is still longing to see the pyramids in neighboring Egypt.
I've seen the pyramids. He hasn't. Have I told you that story? Yes? Oh well, here it is again...
Camel ride to pyramid - May '06
Almost 7 years ago, a slightly odd girl (ahem, me) traveled to Israel for a three week stay. This young, single, white girl (can you say "target?") met up with a hunk named Geoff. He was the scholarly, good guy type but looked capable of adventure, so they hung out a few times. One day, some friends she made at the dingy Old City hostel where she was staying said,
"Hey Jamie, we're going to Egypt tomorrow to see the pyramids, wanna come?"
Yes, yes she did.
She was excited and even invited the scholarly hunk along, but he declined with a poor excuse of,
"I really want to go, but have a class Friday morning. I can't skip school!"
"Ouch," thought girl, "that's the best excuse he can think of?"
Well, girl had endured worse brush offs. She was even slightly relieved because she could tell that underneath that scholarly, Mr. Nice Guy facade he put on, he'd probably be easy to fall for. And really, she just wasn't looking for that kind of thing right then. It seemed he wasn't either, with an excuse like that.
At least she assumed it was an excuse.
Who would actually skip out on the pyramids to attend a single Friday class?? That's what I call letting your study get in the way of your education. If the excuse was really true (which she later confirmed it was), then scholar boy must really not be her kind of guy.
Girl had a great trip to the pyramids. Easily the most amazing single site she had seen in all her travels around the world.
When she got back to Israel, she was surprised that scholar boy wanted to see her again. She thought that was fine and wasn't too concerned about anything serious because she could never be swept off her feet by someone who chose prepared class time over fleeing to Egypt at the last minute. She didn't want scholar boy, she needed adventure man.
Long (well, not that long) story short, she realized that she didn't need adventure man. That would get her into way too much trouble. She realized that scholar boy needed adventure girl.
After seeing her pictures and hearing her stories of the great pyramids in Egypt, scholar boy had wept in repentance and pledged never again to let another adventure with her pass him by. To this day when people ask if he's visited the pyramids, a tear will form in the corner of his eye...but adventure girl will say,
"I have! They're incredible! One of the best trips ever!"
And they live happily ever after.
So you can see my dilemma. I've been able to hold this adventure victory over my similarly well-traveled husband's head for years. If we do venture over to the pyramids, what else will I have left? If I don't, that sad tear in the corner of his eye may get even bigger.
Oh, and there's that little detail about Egypt being a bit more of an "exciting" place to travel at the moment. THAT is a good excuse. Maybe we SHOULD just cross the border to Jordan, hike Petra, and lay by the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side 'till we can come back into Israel.
Or we could go to Turkey, or Cyprus, or someplace in Europe...or Russia(?), but now it's just getting expensive. Expensive kept us from a new nephew and a sister's wedding. Expensive isn't happening.
But let's pretend just for fun it wasn't expensive and just had to be somewhere on this side of the world. What's a place you've always wanted to see, or have seen and highly recommend? Where would you go??
We finished our shopping at the market today and got to our car as the shofar blast sounded, signaling sundown and the beginning of Shabbat around Jerusalem. Instead of going directly back home, we decided to walk into the Old City to see the gatherings for Sabbath celebrations and prayers at the Western Wall.
This is people watching at its best. Photography in the security cleared ground area pictured above is forbidden on Shabbat (Sabbath) and other religious holidays (Holy Days). The only way to get photos of the religious dressed in their finest who come out in mass on Shabbat, is if you know where the look out points are and can take from above like we did. A bit of wandering in the Jewish Quarter, and you'll find it.
Stone walls really look the best lit up at night, especially famous ones, don't you think? Add to them crowds of religious worshipers, chanting, singing, praying...and dancing with jubilation on the women's side...and the atmosphere throbs with spirit and life. Tourists, military, and pilgrims alike, mingle with the religious Jews as they celebrate the end of the week and beginning of Shabbat. People are sitting anywhere, on the ground and stairs, hanging over fences, all to get a taste of this special place.
This place was fun. Old world meets eclectic - Russian style. You enter at street level and walk down stairs that open to a charming underground tavern. This thousand year old Crusader cloister is full of impressive artifacts and unique pieces of art and furniture. Our kind of place.
We split a dinner course that was only available on Fridays - Geoff couldn't pass that opportunity. I can't remember the name of the dish, much to my chagrin, but it was wonderful. It had an Sh, and a Y in it. More importantly, it had a generous beef patty served in a deep tahina sauce of sorts, with potatoes, onions, and peppers. We ate every bit out of the rustic pottery bowl, enjoying the unique flavors and time together. Have I mentioned food is my favorite part of travel? Well, other than Geoff, of course. Together, bliss.
We had a great evening together and were thankful for the opportunity and decision to stop, taking time to celebrate Shabbat Shalom, Sabbath's peace. Shabbat Shalom to all of you!
Another group has completed their life-changing journey to the land of the Bible tonight, and are on their way home. Itineraries for Jim's trips change from group to group but the last two have each ended at the Tent Restaurant in Bethlehem for a final meal together. We love ending the trips with this kind of final feast.
I jokingly refer to these dinner's as our "last supper." This classic mid-east restaurant is the perfect host for the discussion of the Passover and also Jesus "last supper," so it's an appropriate sentiment. One of my favorite times with each group is the very end when people are preparing to return home, and begin to reflect on what they've learned and how they won't return the same. It's astounding.
In my experience, everyone who travels to this land leaves changed. Part of that is because it's a new culture, and experiencing culture's other than our own changes us. The other is seeing the Bible come to life before you feet as you walk through the land in which it was written. You're standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, its water stretching out before you and suddenly stories you've read and re-read become tangible. You hear the water lapping the shore line, feel the wind on your face, touch the cool waters, see the fishing boat moving slowly and suddenly stories of Jesus unfold before your very eyes.
The sites and settings in the land of the Bible are incredible on their own. Add to them a well trained teacher who has studied the Biblical culture, history, and geography of not just modern Israel but the land and time period of the Bible - and the intricacies of the Text come alive like never before.
No matter how many groups I see, or people I meet who've journeyed here, I will never get used to hearing the life-changing testimony that people declare. Listening to the group share from the joy in their hearts tonight after 2 weeks of intense study in the land of the Bible was so inspiring to me. That is why Geoff has dedicated so many years of study and passion to exploring this Text in its original context, and why we study with so many different people and groups before leading our own. We want to take what is always an incredible experience - to its greatest potential.
We love working with Dr. Jim Martin because he shares our passion for transforming a trip to the Holy land from a tour into an intense Biblical study trip for students of the Word. Even a tour provides an incredible experience but to engage the land and each site through the time periods, cultures, and geography of the Bible allows an entirely different level of insight to the Text. One of my favorite testimonies tonight was someone saying the trip was "like a second honeymoon with the LORD." That spark was re-lit, the scriptures had fresh light, and paradigms had shifted.
Those who get the most out of these trips come prepared, having studied provided materials and bring an open heart and mind, ready to learn from the land as if hearing these stories for the first time. It's an incredible thing to witness. There is nothing that inspires me more to encourage Geoff in his passion of bringing people to this land, and/or bringing the land to the people, than hearing the testimonies of those forever changed by being here. Thankful for each opportunity we have to learn and teach here.
Travel with us as we explore new lands, engage cultures, and learn to better love each other, those we encounter, and the Lord Jesus Christ at every crossroad of life.
Where Are We Now?