The Cruise Critics that were going to Jerusalem & Bethlehem on a GTI private tour (CMV only offered these sites separately despite them being only a 20 minute drive apart) met at 7.30am and we left the ship (The Vasco da Gama) and went effortlessly through immigration and our guide, ‘Dikel’ was waiting for us with our driver and a very nice 16 seater BMW Bus… I just love it when things go to plan.
Dikel explained our day to us on the way to ‘The Mount of Olives’ up on ‘Mount Zion’, where it is said the Messiah will resurrect the dead on judgement day. It is Jerusalem’s holiest cemetery and the view from the top is amazing, taking in the whole city, of both Old and New Jerusalem.
This is where it is alleged that the Virgin Mary ‘fell asleep forever’. The fortress-like building, with a conical roof and four corner towers, stands south of the ‘Old City’s Zion Gate’, where most of us where singing or at least humming, the old ‘Boney M – Rivers of Babylon’ song.
We walked to the ‘Dormition Abbey’, which is situated in the ‘Garden of Gethsemane’, the olive grove where Jesus prayed after the ‘Last Supper’ and was betrayed by his disciple Judas the same night. The garden was ablaze with roses in full bloom and they even had a ‘Jasmine’ vine climbing up a stone wall. It was a shame that there were so many people pushing and shoving to get through, as it would have been a lovely spot to spend some time in.
We also visited the nearby ‘Church of All Nations’, also known as the ‘Basilica of the Agony’. The altar enshrines a section of bedrock, known as the ‘Rock of Agony’, where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest… the lines to kneel and kiss this stone were so long but I managed to get behind an old priest and get a nice photo of it anyhow… oh the power of the zoom lens!
‘King David's Citadel’ is a medieval fortress that is located near the ‘Jaffa Gate’, the historical entrance to the city and the point where the East meets the West, near here we also visited the ‘Room of the Last Supper’ and the ‘Chamber of the Holocaust’ in the Protestant Cemetery and ‘King David’s Tomb’.
The sun was getting very hot now and we walked to ‘Via Dolorosa’, the path that supposedly Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. Here we entered the ‘Jewish Quarter’. Being a Sunday, it was just another day here and we saw many Jewish school children and adults, in various forms of dress going about their daily business.
This pathway lead us to the ‘Church of Holy Sepulchre’, the stairway climbing to Calvary (Golgotha), traditionally regarded as the site of Jesus's crucifixion and the most lavishly decorated part of the church. This is the place where Jesus was crucified and later buried. Here again, was another stone, said to be where Jesus was laid and anointed in oil when he was taken down from the cross before he was buried. So many people here also praying and crying and putting gifts on the slab for blessings and then taking them off again… My husband and I managed to push our way in and do a little hand rubbing ourselves but yes I had a pack of ‘Wet-Ones’ to cleanse ourselves with afterwards.
We stopped for lunch at one of Dikel’s fav cafes, the ‘Everest Cafe’ and we shared an Olive and Tomato Pizza, which we washed down with an ice cold Diet Coke. Very welcome.
Next it was onto the ‘Western Cardo’ which is where we were told the word “Cardiac’ comes from and after walking this path our hearts and breaths sure knew why.
We walked quickly through the ‘Arab Market’ that sprawled across the Christian and Moslem Quarters in Jerusalem's Old City but didn’t buy anything as Dikel said that a lot of it was ‘Made in China”. Ho hum!
Our next stop was at the ‘Wailing Wall’ or the ‘Western Wall’ where we entered through the ‘Dung Gate’ to see the "Wall" because of the centuries of endless tears, shed by Jews. My husband and I had pre-written a prayer each to leave here and I had to give him strict instructions that it was not to include any, Lottery, Lotto or Soccer Pool words. He ensured me it didn’t… but I do have my doubts. The wall is divided into Male and Female sections with the Male section being 2/3 and the Female 1/3… go figure!
We did a drive past of ‘Temple Mount’, a holy site within the Old City for Jewish, Christian and Muslim people. All visitors are able to tour the compound and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, with the exception of the Dome of the Rock but we didn’t, as we were keen to get to Bethlehem.
Back onto the bus for a 20 minute rest while we drove to the West Bank into Palestine. Here we stopped at the obligatory ‘Tourist Gift Shop’ where we could shop while we picked up our Palestinian Guide. My husband and I did a quick walk through of the shop and then went next door to ‘The Bakery’ to watch the young baker knead, roll and flip his dough. Much more interesting to us than shopping!
Back in the bus and with our new guide we set off to explore ‘Manager Square’, where the majority of religious activity in Bethlehem takes place… nothing very exciting here just another large limestone paved park.
We then walked across the road to the ‘Church of the Nativity’, where the birth of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is said to have occurred. Unfortunately there was a funeral being conducted here, a 72 year old man, who died peacefully in his sleep… or so our guide told us.(???) Anyhow we waited outside with our guide as he said they would be out soon. This they were, the males carrying the coffin, came out through one door and the females all wiping their eyes through another. Our guide spoke to one of the woman, whom we assume was the wife, patted her hand and led us through another door inside.
Talk about not wasting time, flowers (sadly silk ones) were being stuffed back into boxes and roles of white tuille were being unwound to wrap around the pews for the next event, a wedding… life sure does go on here in these churches in Bethlehem!
There is an underground cave that they believe marks the spot of the ‘birthplace’ with a 14-point star set into the marble floor. But our guide said that the waiting time to enter the cave would take up to two hours, and while I was keen, unfortunately the other ‘’scaredy cats’ were not as it would have brought us back to the ship close to ‘All aboard Time’.
Our guide must have seen the look on my face (pretty hard to miss I’ve been told) so he took us across to another Church, St Catherine’s for a look in there (Everyone, EXCEPT me groaned) and then he sang us a version of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in ??? mmm… it was the 3rd language in the Bible… Hebrew, and some other one and then this one that sounded like Armenian but probably is spelt wrong… anyhow it was a nice gesture and I appreciated it.
There was a large painting of ‘St George’ as we were leaving this church and I must look up why it is there?
Our bus driver took us the scenic drive back to the port but everyone except two others and myself slept... so serves them right as it was lovely diving through the Jerusalem Mountains.