The Holyland - History On Wheels
One can never have enough of Israel and Jordan. Two places on my bucket list that I got to a bit belatedly, thanks to my family’s plans of doing a Christmas visit to these holy places.
Jerusalem, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and Haifa— now they all seem so familiar after being toured around the cities and taking photos at the requisite tourist spots. The weather was a cool range of 7-12 degrees in December and perfect for shawls and jackets, but bearable to walk around the hills and valleys.
The trip also makes you connect to your Christian roots and catholic education as you recall the lessons in school and make the readings come to life. Gethsemane? I remember the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and you sing along while the guide takes you to the gardens and the oldest olive tree — about 2,000 years old! Yes, as old as BC and AD on our calendars, before and after Christ.
As I was posting photos on Instagram, not a few friends asked for our itinerary and which travel agent we used; you can actually choose from many tour agencies but specify if you want a Christian or a Christian Catholic version. They will include a knowledgeable local guide who is also of the same faith.
I think Christmas time is a good time to visit even if a priest told me the lines would be long. But how many times can you actually visit Jesus’ actual birthplace? That for me was worth the two hour wait in line and a crowded flow into a grotto to have just ten seconds with the “child in the manger “. All kinds of nationalities were there, it was like the United Nations of Christianity.
What better time than Christmas Day to be in Bethlehem? Yes, it is crowded but worth the sacrifice and adds meaning to the pilgrimage. We are not tourists after all; we are pilgrims tracing the way of the Lord from His birth to the last day.
I am not very religious and I hardly talk about my pilgrimage tours but this one is for every Christian or Moslem’s bucket list. Even Jews will relate to the many stops as we also went to the western wall, where Jews paid homage to the history of the wailing wall.
My family also waited in baited breath in Rome to see the holy Father last summer, waiting three hours in the sun to catch Pope Francis wave to the crowd.
But the Holy Land is a sight to see and experience despite the lines at the important spots — Bethlehem where He was born and The Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was laid to rest — it is a must see and should be on everyone’s bucket list. It makes you look back to grade school and appreciate what you have been praying for and who you include in your prayers.
Oh you will sing along as the guide takes you to places with familiar names especially Bethlehem and Gethsemane. You either break into a Christmas carol or a Hosanna song from the film Jesus Christ Superstar.
Then there are the other familiar names you hear from gospels: the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and The beatitudes. All of them exist, even the chapels and churches or the multiplication of fish and loaves. Remember that?
Amidst all the holy places, I was also admiring the vegetation and the banana plantations around the Sea of Galilee. The Israelites and the Jordanians love to eat salads at every meal, thus the demand for fresh vegetables for tabouleh, salads, moutabal, signature side dishes and appetisers of the Middle East called Arabic Mezze. Then there are grains like quinoa, couscous, barley, bulgur, and wild rice. Plus lots of rolls, bread, pita, and all kinds of flatbreads.
I cannot understand how some tourists do not like Arabic food — I love it. It’s healthy and in Israel it’s kosher, too. Most of it are grilled meats and salads. Honey and phyllo pastry for desserts, which are different variations of what we know as baklava.
One of the highlights of the trip is crossing to Jordan via the Sheikh Hussein border in Israel. Imagine that just a 100 miles and you could be in Syria. You get to see the Golan Heights, the Jordan River, and the Sea of Galilee from the road your bus travels on. It’s history and the state of the Arab world right before your eyes. Syria, Jordan, and Israel — all reachable by land.
What a trip. Though many places are a bit touristy and most eating places available are meant for tour groups, you get to thank your lucky stars you are able to walk where Jesus walked, go where he was baptised, and breathe the air he did as he preached and taught in synagogues.
It is a journey every person must make in a lifetime. Moslem or Christian. Catholic or Jew. This is a trip even children can relate to — like catechism on wheels — like a prayer that comes alive with every church you visit… a religion class for those who have stopped believing.
- Photography Cover Image by Keith Chan on Unsplash - The Dead Sea