Thursday, May 1, 2014

Herodium, and Our Last Day.

For our last day in Israel, since our organized tour was over, we arranged for a private tour guide.  Our guide Ron made the arrangement, and said to us "see if you can get Amos  to tell you his story"....hmm.  As we drove through the streets of Jerusalem, I said to  Amos, "have you always been a tour guide?"...Amos, "no, I worked for the state, am retired".  Robert, "what did you do?"  Amos, "I cannot tell you"...code for intelligence.  I said, "are you familiar with Daniel Silva books?"  (They're books about an Israeli Mossad agent.)  Amos chuckles and says "some of what he says might be accurate"...we all laughed.  We made a few turns, and I notice that the street we're on is Narkiss St., the street where the Silva protagonist lives...I said, ' hey, we're on Narkiss St.", and again Amos chuckled.  I liked him.
We set off for Hadassah Medical Center to see the Chagall windows in the synagogue...we couldn't go in because it was Saturday (services), but we got to walk through the multiple buildings, some very modern, with glass escalators, which weren't turned on, because it was Sabbath.  Here's an internet photo of some of the us a reason to go back!
 Amos suggested we go to Herodium, a hilltop palace Hedod built for himself, including a burial site, which wasn't used.  We started talking politics, now we could get the real story, since we weren't in a protected group.  He drove us right up to the wall that separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem, which is in Area A, illegal for Israelis to enter.
 Bethlehem on the other side of the wall.
 Just like crossing from San Diego to Tijuana...not.

We continued south of Bethlehem, within Area B.  As we approached Herodium, we came to a roadblock, which we passed through quite easily.  A picture of a sign that tells Israelis to stay out.
Herodium, 20-10 BCE, is about 2500 ft above sea level, the highest hill around.  Herod had the top excavated, so that it looks like a volcano crater.  We parked off to the right, and then started the walk up the slippery, rutty, rocky road.  I dreaded the walk down (my knees), but fortunately, Amos had other plans.
When we reached the top, what an incredible view of the structures below and surrounding sites.  This is a lower palace and bath...bathes everywhere.
A cave where some Monks lived.
West Bank settlement (red tile roofs).
A rendition of the fortress/palace.

 This is a new excavation...maybe 30 years old.  Very special to see.  One can only imagine how much else there is to see...why I want to go back.

No mortar, stone on stone.  Amazing.  The synagogue, you can always tell, because they had benches, seating. 

So here is Amos' plan for our return to the car...through the tunnels that led to the rain fed cisterns, and then later for hiding, escaping.

 They made concrete for the cistern walls.

 Amos explaining the chronology to Robert...I still don't have it straight, they must think we're idiots, they know so much history.
We came out at the level of the theater and Herod's tomb.

 Some precision stone work, just over 2000 years old.  I can't get someone to hang a gate.
 As we headed back to the car, we heard the Islamic call to prayer, from several minarets in the was beautiful.

After lunch, we went to the Israel Museum, which had what has to be the world's most complete collection of antiquities.  We saw 250,000 year old tools, vessels, 4000 year old round sarcophagi, and this reconstructed Herodium bath house.

As we headed back toward Mt. Scopus for one last view of the city, we went by the UN Headquarters...they've got their work cut out...I don't see how there can ever be peace here, there is too much distrust and just pure hate.  We went into this very open minded, we don't like the West Bank settlements, we think they should stop building there.  Most Israelis don't want the settlements, they would only keep those closest to the border, and trade land for them.  The Palestinians would get farms, communities...but they won't do it.  They want Israel gone.  Period.  That isn't going to happen.  We don't think the Israelis are the bad guys in this.
 You can see Herodium off in the distance peeking above Jerusalem.
As we looked out over the city, we saw several big black fires, with the smoke plumes coming into Jerusalem.  Amos told us that when the wind blows toward Jerusalem, the Palestinians light piles of tires on fire, so the smoke will pollute the air.  Apparently, their favorite time to do this is Sabbath and Holy Days.  This is a picture of one of the fires taken from Herodium.  Jerusalem is just beyond Bethlehem.
And here's a picture of our was a great trip, sorry it had to end.

We were able to upgrade to business class on the way home...yeah, actually slept for 6-7 hours.  No problems at customs, home we went!  And now to plan the next trip...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Old City, City of David, the "Shuk"

Because there were a few of us who were interested in fabric, our guide Ron took  us to one of five shops in the world that can still purchase Syrian silk.  Everybody was amazed by the beauty and quality of the fabrics.  I bought a jacquard silk scarf pour moi, and a table runner for my in laws.  I could have gone home with bolts of fabric.

 As we walked through the city to the gate that would lead us to the City of David, a few sights...mosaics
the 3000 year old wall that surrounded the original Temple 
 synagogue next to a mosque.
The City of David, the original settlement, was built about 1000 BCE, on the south side of the hill, with the 1st Temple on the top.
 Looking at the south wall of the city and Temple mount from the City of David.  The Jewish people always believed they would be attacked from the north (Romans, Syria, Iran...) so the northern walls were always higher, and their homes on the other side.

 The Kidron Valley, to the east side of the Old City. 

Excavation has is controversial, as to whether the land should be disturbed.  This was probably a palace, because of its size, number of rooms, view of the valley. 

 A toilet.
 While we were listening to our site guide, we heard popping noises, coming from a Palestinian area.  We all looked to Ron, our guide, who told us it was just fireworks.  He pulled out his phone, started searching for info.  The noised continued, a helicopter came, and buzzed around in circles.  More popping, more buzzing, it was hard to concentrate on the passionate guide.  We left, headed toward our bus stop.  Ron told us some kids were probably shooting something up at the helicopter, of course the helicopter knew how to be out of range.  Fridays are a "big" day in Jerusalem.  Arabs are required to go to Mosque, and it is the Sabbath, so the police make a presence.  There were about 10 of these vans, loaded with munitions, about 2 police for each.  We saw them as they were leaving the area, pulling off their kevlar, etc. These guys made me feel safe, when Israeli security acts, it acts.

On our way to the old Jewish market, the Shuk, we got a good view of the security wall that separates Israel from a Section A area, which is Bethlehem.  We saw more of this the next day. 
We arrived to the market, which was a bustling, fun outdoor expanse of streets, lined with stalls.  Because the Sabbath was approaching, the prices were falling on all perishables.  Those that didn't sell would go to the poor. 

Fresh many people don't know that garlic is supposed to be purple?
We went back to the hotel and had a final dinner with our group.  Almost all travelers left after midnight...we had all day Saturday, so we arranged for a driver/guide.  Tomorrow, south to Herodium.