Where: Dead Sea, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Galilee, Haifa, Tel Aviv
Who: Mr & Mrs Wanderlust with #habibi2017
When: October 2017
What: Holy Land Expedition Blog Series (part 2): ISRAEL
We know that you have probably waited for the second part of the blog and evidently, it took a while for us to compile these because (1) we have been a bit busy with our daily grind and all that. and (2) A lots of picture to compile and content to be labeled as properly and of course as unerring as we possibly can remember to the best of our memories (should have kept a written journal!)
And because there are so many significant and important places we need to go on such a short time (less than a week! :(), as well as beautiful places that you wish to see and experience longer to absorb how blessed we are and how always thankful we should always be.
Again, it was really helpful that we have with us knowledgeable, veteran and overall cool guides. And equally, a chaplain that came along with us. Especially for the fact that what we can consider the place as the 'ground zero' for the most things that happened in the bible are located. That allowed us to learn about the country's culture, arts and humanities, valuable history and balance it with the spirituality that lies between it by understanding its place's significance in the bible, grasp on the true meaning of these texts, and be enlightened again by these words when applied in the context of real life as lessons to be learned and overall deepened awareness from your surroundings, family, personal etc. Its like it all made sense to us.
Disclaimer: The events we are writing are not in a proper timeline in order, according to our itinerary because there are sudden adjustments of the schedules by the operator / tour guide to make the most out of the short time we have, getting to as many of the sites as we can, spending little time from traffic, avoiding too much hoards of other tourist groups. As we have said before, our guides/drivers are really awesome and well informed.
And finally, we wrote this in a manner that it will be appreciated by anybody of any belief, from both religion and politics. In short, whatever you believe in, you are always welcome to appreciate and learn something from the old times because of your pilgrimage/ visit to the holy land. We can all probably agree on something... Peace, Shalom, Salam, We are all one! :)
From Sinai province of Egypt, it is really near the border, Taba border, which is the border of Egypt & Israel. Due to security concerns of Israel, their border has a really tight security. However, a Philippine passport holder, does not need visa to Israel, as long as you can show your financial capability to have all your accommodation, and all expenses already paid for, will be sufficient to be allowed entry.
There are also options via Air, especially for ones that is coming from the different airports around the world, however if you are not sure of your country's status in terms of visa so please do a bit of reasearch, or better yet, connect with a reputable tour agency.
Same goes for in land border crossing, to avoid any hassle, it would be advisable to have everything arranged by a travel agent beforehand.
Again, we had to move every now and then to be accommodated near the sites that we will get to. Overall, it is a nice and a bit tiring experience to stay in different hotels
Packing! Tip: When on a tour that needs you to move from one hotel to another every day or 2, try to fix your luggage in a manner that you only ready your outfit for the next day, then make sure you have everything packed properly in the luggage before going to sleep. The things you might need for next day should be accessible in your hand carried luggage, while the rest of your bulky things should be secured inside your luggage, this will allow you to move in ease, and still have your urgent things (wallet/toiletries/ camera gear/ phone / extra outfit / snacks/ etc.) accessible in your hand carried bag, while souvenirs, bulky and even small ones are already tucked in your bigger luggage.
Mr & Mrs Wanderlust's Review
Hotel #1: David Dead Sea Hotel
+ Lobby is big, and looked luxurious, and also smells nice, has shops inside.
+ The buffet restaurant was nice and huge, though a bit of a mess with choices. nothing notable.
+ Our rooms were clean, and spacious
+ Amenities, toiletries etc, are all complete.
+ WiFi is fast and reliable.
+ TV Channels are many, some even play modern local music which was refreshing.
+ The bed was big and spacious and we had a good night sleep there.
- Though the rooms were clean, some amenities lay dusty like the electric kettle we use for our tea and had to wash it to make sure.
- At very early in the morning, the hotel has no direct access or shortcut to the Dead Sea, so have to walk like almost a block away, easy for us but not to some, as we have an early morning jog uphill
Price: $$$ 8,000 above PHP per night for 2
Service: 5 star - Service & staff were all helpful
Facilities & Amenities: 4.8 star - Nice spacious rooms with view.
Restaurant (foods): 4.7 star - Their breakfast buffet were big and nice but don't have some we were looking for. like apple, banana, coleslaw, goat cheese etc.
Bar: 4.7 star - They have a bar available drinks
Overall: 4.8 /5
Hotel #2: Ramada Olivie Hotel, Nazareth
+ Our hotel in Nazareth, nice lobby with some souvenir shops
+ Hotel is still new, not more than a year
+ Cozy and loved the lobby music
+ Very helpful and friendly staff
+ Nice, Clean and new rooms, clean bathroom & toilet
+ Comfortable and soft bed
+ Very beautiful view of the Nazareth on our room's window
+ 20+ minute walk at the nearest mall
+ Free WiFi
- Good buffet choices for breakfast.
- It is located near the road and about 10-20 minute walk away from mall / shops
- It is really new and some taxi driver cant locate so better bring hotel card with address when going out (our key card has no address of hotel in it)
Price: $$$ 200++ USD per night for 2
Service: 5 star - Service & staff were all helpful
Facilities & Amenities: 4.9 star - Comforable bed and cozy rooms with beautiful view of Nazareth
Restaurant (foods): 4.9 star - Breakfast buffet was lovely and choices were delicious
Bar: 4.7 star - Not sure if they have if they don't they make up for it with their amenities/facilities
Overall: 4.89 / 5
Hotel #3: Yehuda, Jerusalem
+ In Jerusalem, tucked in a quiet area away from crowds, yet still nice place to stay
+ Lobby is nice, has an ATM, and a convenient souvenir shop around
+ Rooms, though a bit small, is nice, clean and overall good place to spend nights in Jerusalem
+ Nice garden and flowers around
+ The best breakfast buffet and our favorite and also Kosher food friendly, delicious choices
+ Very friendly and helpful, and also young and good looking ;)
+ Meeting rooms were available
- No view of the city in our room, but made up with nice flowers and garden view on breakfast
- Getting to your rooms can be a bit confusing the first couple of times
- Did not get water refill, then when asked, we were pointed at the bar, where bottle refilled with tap (though in fairness, tap water in Israel is still clean and reliable).
Price: $$$ 230 and above++ USD per night for 2
Service: 5 star - Service & staff were all helpful
Facilities & Amenities: 4.9 star - Comforable bed and cozy rooms
Restaurant (foods): 5 star - Our all time favorite breakfast buffet, and is also Kosher
Bar: 4.9 star - Tried to see the bar, is nice and spacious, though not so much people that time, still tasted their Israel Beer. Goldstar (גולדסטאר) beer also Kosher certified.
Overall: 4.98 / 5
*Kosher: (of food, or premises in which food is sold, cooked, or eaten) satisfying the requirements of Jewish law.
1. Dip at the Dead Sea & Go up at Qumran + Masada
Coming from Egypt, a bit battered from our climb and descent of Mt. Sinai starting from midnight to breakfast time, we just straight up snoozed on the bus yet still a bit restless, a nice bed to sleep on in our hotel together with early wake up call to try and swim on the soothing waters of Dead Sea.
Feel on top of the world on the lowest place on Earth (428m below sea level).
Dead Sea known in Hebrew as Yam Ha-Melach
A quick dip at the saltiest sea where no visible life form can exist due to its saltiness, but offers mineral rich therapeutic goodness which rejuvinates you physically and spiritually.
The water is also buoyant which means the moment your feet and legs are in the water you feel as if you are being pushed up. It is too salty that rock salts can be seen naturally forming around the sand underwater and totally not advisable to get water in your eyes.
Qumran & Masada
Both archaeological sites, Masada is a well developed tourist place with a cable lift that allows people to see ancient structures on top of the mountain, as this was a fortress built on top of the mountain in the middle of the desert.
While Qumran is the place with caves on the mountains with people of the past lived and where the dead sea scrolls were made and found.
2. Jericho & Mt. Tabor (Church of Transfiguration)
We went to Jericho, the oldest city where it dates up to 9000 BC (neolithic age when man stopped being hunter and started being a planter). Also This is actually at West Bank which is Palestine territory to see the exact sycamore tree written in the bible (Luke 19:4) where Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed the tree and was touched by Jesus and gave his half of his belongings to the poor.
Also the site of the "Walls of Jericho" as mentioned in the bible (Joshua 6:1-27)
In the lower part of Galilee, an ancient mountain which has been considered to be the site of the Transfiguration, that is where Jesus transfigured before his apostles, Peter, James & John while he appeared with Moses & Elijah
Built was a crusader fortress in its summit in 1099, was attacked by Moslems led by Saladin, then the property was bought Franciscans again in the 15th century where it is still under their custody of this holy site until present, where they kept and maintained.
Now, the church, Basilica of Transfiguration can be found on top of the mountain which was built in the early 19th century by the renowned Italian architect, Antonio Barluzzi
3. Wedding at Cana & Church of Annunciation
Wedding at Cana, Galillee
To quote our social media post a few moments after our renewal, we were so feeling thankful and blessed.
"At Cana in Galilee, Jesus performed his first miracle changing water into wine at the request of Mary his mother. (John 2:1)
The Fransiscans built a church on the same place where excavations led to the discovery of mosaics and ancient stoneworks of 4th century synagogue.
Few meters below was a crypt where a chapel was, the same level of ground in Jesus' time probably the place where they walked. Our very solemn renewal of wedding vows that is more than what we have dreamed of took place. No wedding at any place can compare to the sanctity of what we have experienced.
We are beyond blessed to have this. Thank you to all our new Ninangs and friends we have made in this wonderful journey. Thank you Fr. Arlo Bernardo Yap for officiating, Ninangs Marissa Romero Lawson & Connie Smith for the Cana Wine gift, and Ms. Rosemarie Sandoval Galang for a well organized trip."
Church of Annunciation
A very nice Basilica was built in the early 1900s that is basically the old town of nazareth was located within its walls, which also has inside it, the Grotto of the Announciation on the lower ground level inside the Basilica which was the exact spot in (Luke 1:26 ) where the archangel Gabriel appearred to Mary announcing that she was to be the Mother of Jesus.
3. Caesaria & Haifa
Conquered by the Roman General Pompey in 63 B.C., Caesar Augustus then gave this area to Herod the Great who was the mastermind of building a magnificent city in 22 B.C. The place has an aqueduct that carries then fresh water to supply the town, strategically placed near a nice beach coastline to supply the water for the newly built city of Caesarea.
Also nearby is a Roman theatre and has a long history of being conquered, destroyed and rebuilt by different groups. Today, the Israeli Department of Antiquities is currently doing extensive excavations in the area.
The picturesque coastal town has been inhabited for the last 10,000 years. It also has the most important port / harbor in terms of location and military strategic location. What makes it more special is at the top of it is a view of majestic garden, and around the town which was years ago destroyed by war and had the country's artists and art appreciators were asked to settle, and as a result the streets, houses and basically the whole urban plan became very nice, and so artistic. Very pleasant to walk around modern city with a lot of local businesses and entrepreneurs with touches of old houses and structures around yet not losing any part of their culture.
5. Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Jordan River
Sea of Galilee
Amongst the many different Holy Land sites, the Sea of Galilee has changed comparatively little since Jesus walked on its shores and recruited four fishermen as his first disciples. This freshwater sea, which is actually a lake is also mentioned in the bible as one of the places where apostles got their fish to eat. It was also in this lake where Jesus calmed the storm and walked on its waters. (Matthew 14:22)
The City of Jesus as sometimes referred to is a small fishing village where Jesus called his disciples after leaving Nazareth. Also as the scriptures say, Jesus lived with St. Peter and his family. It was also in this town where Jesus performed eight miracles. Also, a lot of archaeological sites were uncovered through excavations led by the Franciscans
You probably know what significance this plays in the Bible, as this was the place (though not the exact one as historians say it is on the Jordanian border side) where John the Baptist, baptised Jesus. A deveoped place especially for tourists to re-anact the baptism in the old times, best when officiated by a chaplain. The place has a big souvenir shop around and is well organized in different sections for different groups of tourists.
6. Bethlehem , West Bank
It is under Palestenian territory, under a complicated political agreement although peaceful all around, here is where you can visit Bethlehem, which is where David was born. Also this is where Joseph, and Mary pregnant with Jesus went to and register for census (to avoid killing of babies by Herod). This is where you can find, and pray on the spot where the manger was, where Jesus was born by Mary. Now protected and maintained by the Franciscans but still in a way that tourists can see and even have an official mass. This place also probably hears Christmas songs every month of the year as many of the devout christian tourists tend to sing these songs to honor and praise.
Church of Nativity
is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. In 614 A.D. of the Persian invation while other constantinian built churches were being destroyed, this church was spared. The church of Nativity is also under a Status Quo agreement among 3 different denominations of Christians - Latin Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox.
Grotto of Nativity
In there lies one of Christendom's holiest sites, the place where Jesus was born.
The Star of Bethlehem
The star inside the grotto is the exact spot where Jesus was born
There is also the wall that is bordering Israel and Palestine territory just a few minute drive from the area, and there you can see graffiti/ murals that are socio political yet provokative. Have to stop and appreciate the modern art..
7. Mt. Zion
The city of David. Who is David? The same David who killed Goliath, who later on became anointed as a King, as mentioned in the bible. Just outside of Jerusalem's walls is a hill where Mount Zion is situated.
Important sites on Mount Zion are Dormition Abbey, King David's Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper.
8. The Old City of Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem is home to several sites of key religious importance: the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981.
Our photos hopefully include all of the Via Dolorosa "Way of Sorrow" which winds along the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, leads from the first station of the cross where Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate on the minaret traditionally named Antonia Tower.
Even had a solemn mass at the place of the second station of the cross where Jesus takes up the cross (John 19:1), the Chapels of the Condemnation & Flagellation, feel the mass even more closer as it still has in its floors the original roads in their time.
Walking along the old city feels like the ancient times, and continuing the way of the cross along its narrow streets filled with local markets and now souvenir shops, and antique shops, etc. Until finally arriving to the Holy Sepulchre which houses the final parts of the way of the cross. This is the place with a very long queue (so better get early) where you can go inside the Mausoleum where Jesus was buried and rose from the dead.
9. Wailing Wall
The Wall is adjacent to the location of many critical events in Jewish history. Here, Abraham demonstrated his devotion to God through his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.
This is also the very place where the Holy Temple would eventually be built. In the present day, the Temple Mount still stands in this location. This was our final stop of our tour in Israel, and in this area is really tight with security and in the day we went, we were lucky enough to witness bar mitzvah celebrations where Jewish boys are bound to become men.
“If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy.”
10. Pilgrimage 'certificate' from family generations of tattoo artists since 1300's.
We were searching for a tattoo shop in Jerusalem to, you know have something in our etched in our skin that will last us this lifetime. Luckily, from our searching the last surviving pilgrimage tattoo artist still practices from generations of family of tattoo artists for 700 years, how can we resist that?! Not really part of the tour, but upon checking and our pilgrimage schedule, and having our guide, (thanks Yoram!) schedule for us, days before.
So after our final night, once all the activities were completed, we asked our bus driver to drop us off at Jaffa gate as it is the landmark that is near the tattoo shop (and we were ready to get lost if ever!).
The shop was situated in the quiet old streets of Jerusalem for the most authentic feel. Inside the shop the design of the building is still old style which was nice and it is evident around its walls. There are also a lot of customers who drop by who would like to get tattooed, although some choose the non traditional tattoos. We tried to get us a traditional Coptic art tattoos.
Tattoos are starting to emerge as popular travel souvenirs, but Razzouk Ink gives a truly and more one of a kind experience which is a link to hundreds of years of history through a tattoo that is somehow a certificate for your pilgrimage.
ProTip: If planning to get a Hebrew tattoos, avoid it in conspicuous areas as according to Razzouk, entering Arab countries with the said kinds of tattoos might result in more questions before gaining entry.
Further reading & more info: http://razzouktattoo.com
(USD) $100 = 351 Israeli Shekel (ILS)= 5,137 Philippine Pesos (PHP)
Accommodation - High End - $500+++ USD per night / room
Accommodation - Mid - $150 - $300 USD per night / room
Transportation - Taxi - 30 - 50 Shekel ( $10-15 USD) depending on location of course.
Food - Snacks - $1 - $5 for streetfood and basic snacks
Food - Full Course - $15 - $20 USD for main dishes
Food - Burger meal for 2 at McDonalds in Nazareth, cost us around $21 USD (80 ILShekels )
Drinks - Hotel - Beer $10 USD, Cola ($5-8 USD)
Drinks - Outside - $2 USD
Souvenir - T-Shirt - $5 USD
Souvenir - Magnets / keychain - Pack for $5
Souvenir - Holy Land Pilgrimage Items $20+++ to a lot more
Brands - Apparel Sports Brands (Nike, Adidas) / Fashion (Zara, H&M) More expensive than PHP
ProTip: When buying souvenir, make sure you have it coordinated with your tour guide, as (1) You can be assured of quality, because some rosaries you see being peddled on the streets may not be made of genuine olive wood, but instead a different wood made in China. (2) To assure that you will not be cheated with price, or any other issues.
Additional Notes: After the tour programs for the day, still push yourself and try to get around the city, as we were able to roam around inside the gates of Jerusalem, and found more souvenir and local food shops and for a few cheap but very good finds to shop around Jeffa gate area.
Our Pilgrimage to Holy Land, especially for the more than 50 different sites, we visited, was too miuch to absorb, good thing we had awesome guides, funny and yet a good story tellers like Yoram with his awesome driver Adnan to avoid traffic and a machine when it comes with luggages, Our Chaplain, Fr. Arlo Yap, SVD whom like a shepherd guided us and fed us with the words of wisdom while learning more from the word of the Lord, and finally, Ms. Rosemarie Galang and the Ephesus Manila team for making and designing this program and arranging our trip more than our expectations.
P.S. Of course, we won't forget to thank the rest of #habibi2017 group, and the special bond that we found with them in our journey to Israel. Yalla Habibi!
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