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Jerusalem, River Jordan and the Dead Sea

sunny 76 °F

We woke up around 6:15am with no alarm needed. We got ready and then headed down for breakfast in the hotel. We each had a cappuccino along with some delicious food. The beach was already bustling with activity as the volleyball courts were active, kayakers and paddle boarders were cruising the water and runners and bikers were working up a sweat.
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We met our guide in the lobby at 8:00am and headed out for Jerusalem. On the way, we got to hear about the country, culture and history. There are about 10 million people living in Israel with 6 million Jews, 2 million Muslims, and 1 million Christians. You notice quickly in this country that they are catering to a number of languages. Nearly all of the signs in the country are marked in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English. It's also difficult to ignore the divide. Muslims have white license plates with green lettering while Jews have yellow plates with black lettering. This distinction is apparently to help identify the Muslims when coming through checkpoints, but it's not hard to imagine that it's used in other ways as well.
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One interesting tidbit on Jerusalem is that every building must use Jerusalem stone on it's exterior, so the city has a very old feel. After a short drive through Old Jerusalem and past the Muslim Quarter gate into the Old City walls, we drove past Mount of Olives and the massive cemetery. This area is especially important because this is where Jesus spent his last few days before the crucifixion. He and his apostles camped out on the hill each night and then entered Jerusalem to minister to the people each day.
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As we entered the wall into the Jewish Quarter the battle scars were obvious. Riddled with bullet holes, you see the importance of these massive wall in protecting the people that have lived inside them.
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A quick walk past a few shops in the old city reveal amazing views of Mount of Olives but even more impressively the "Dome of the Rock" on the Temple Mount, one of the most important religious locations to three of the world's major religions. From 516BC until 70AD this was the site of the Second Temple which replaced Solomon's first temple. After the destruction of the Second Temple, Muslims took over the area, they built their own mosque in the same location and use it still today. Unfortunately only Muslims are allowed to approach the mosque.
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Since the temple had fallen under Muslim control the Jews were no longer able to visit this holy location. Instead they were forced to pray and worship at the base of the construct which is commonly known as the "West Wall". Used daily this site instills and incredible feeling as you see the emotions of those around you. There are two separate areas, one for men and the other for women. Jews, both Orthodox and casual, are reading, singing, and praying in this area with many others in the area as well. Inside the prayer chamber you'll find more people doing the same.
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Next we made our way toward the Muslim Quarter through a security checkpoint. The fragrant and vibrant streets were filled with people on their way to the mosque for prayers, shopkeepers selling fruits and bakeries with bread. Armed Israeli soldiers guard the path to the mosque and ask potential visitors their religion. If you answer anything but Muslim you're turned away. If you answer Muslim and they don't believe you, you are asked to recite the first verse of the Quran. We rounded a corner and stepped onto the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) which follows Jesus' path from condemnation to crucifixion. Station 5 was the first station we saw, and represents the point at which Simon helped carry the cross. The stone marks the location where Jesus is believed to have leaned on the wall.
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Station 6 is where Veronica wiped the face of Jesus. Station 7 Jesus fell for the second time. We didn't see stations 8-9. We ended this walk in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Inside, a busy but solemn place, are Stations 10-14. The modern state of this area with buildings tightly surrounding the space makes it difficult to imagine this was the site of Jesus crucifixion at Calvary (or Golfotha), death and resurrection. Standing in this place evokes a strange variety of feelings: wonder, guilt, amazement, thankfulness, to name a few...
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Inside you climb a narrow, steep set of stares to Station 10 where Jesus was stripped of his clothes. Station 11 houses a mosaic of Jesus being nailed to the cross.
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Station 12 was Jesus death upon the cross as he uttered, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?". It's easy to imagine this scene with three crosses perched on a hilltop. This station seems to be severely understated, but it would be impossible to provide adequate emphasis on it's importance.
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Station 13 represents Jesus being taken down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and others. His mother Mary and girlfriend Mary Magdalene helped to anoint his body for burial. The stone is considered the anointing rock the place where the preparations took place.
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Station 14 represents Jesus as his body was laid to rest. The traditionally accepted location of Jesus' tomb is within a fancy shrine. A long line of people wait to enter the tomb. Archeologists did discover an alternative location within the same area, which some believe is the actual tomb based on the biblical descriptions of the place. A third location exists (the garden tomb) that has been considered by some. No matter which you believe to be the actual location, it's another layer of emotions to think about the burial place of Jesus being so nearby.
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On our way back out of old Jeruslam we stopped at a shop for a couple of simple souvenirs and to visit David's tomb. As shown below we also went upstairs to visit the site of the Last Supper which was near the exit of the city. We also took a closer look at the Cardo (heart of the city) shown in a very beautiful painting located in the Cardo itself.
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We headed out of the city and almost immediately started descending into the valley. Jerusalem sits on the top of a mountain at about 800 meters above sea level so the drive to the River Jordan is almost all downhill. We saw many Bedouin sites on our way which of course included goats, donkeys and even a few camels.
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At the Jordan River you're able to walk down to the water's edge. The river is smaller than the Kickapoo River and even at this wide point is less than 25 feet wide. It was very tempting to swim over and touch Jordan while we were there, but the armed military on each side sufficiently deterred us!! On both sides of the river (Israel and Jordan) structures have been built to allow people to visit this site. There are many churches built in this area as well. Jonathon took off his shoes, rolled up his pants and stepped into the very chilly water. We were fortunate to see the baptism of an infant while we were at the river as well. He was a brave little dude, but you can see just how cold the water was from his flailing legs!! A grown Orthodox Jew stepped in and squealed like a child too.

From the Jordan River we took a back road past where our guide served in the military 40 years ago. The area between the river and the road was full of mines that you could see sticking up in many places. Her barracks had been destroyed many years ago as Israel and Jordan have been at peace since 1982. We drove past the old salt refinery which today sits high above the level of the Dead Sea as the water level has receded. We finally made our way to the Dead Sea. We ate lunch and then changed into our suits for a quick splash. The water was thick and it was easy to float. The mud was deep and caught us off guard as we sunk thigh deep as we tried to walk in. The GoPro battery died so we didn't get many pictures but this wasn't a planned stop so we'll be back again tomorrow.
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Traffic was light on the way home since Shabat had begun and the Orthodox Jews were no longer on the road. We took a quick stroll down around the beach to see the boats and fishermen on the shoreline.
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We then headed to a nearby restaurant, Hilton Bay, that had some inviting lights and music. We ordered appetizers to try a few things and ended up with too much food! We each had a drink then headed back to the hotel room. Something didn't sit well with Jill as she's been having issues for the past couple hours... Hopefully it was food poisoning and she'll be better for the morning, our tour bus is set to arrive at 7AM.
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Posted by cornelljjs 11:27 Archived in Israel Tagged #israel

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