Tunnels and Caves and Wheels, Oh My!

Trip Start Apr 14, 2009
Trip End Jul 10, 2009

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Flag of Israel  , Galilee,
Thursday, June 25, 2009

We're back on the trail after our 3 wonderful days on the Nir-Am kibbutz near Ashkelon in central Israel. Our hosts, Tzviah and Arie and their family, were absolutely delightful, and welcomed us with open arms, although we had never previously met. Their 6-month old grandson, Eitan, was the sweetest child you can imagine, with a Gerber baby face, a gurgle as lovely as any songbird, and a personality to match. No way could you be with this child and not smile. As I described in my last entry, this was also an eye-opening experience, being so close to Gaza, and seeing the effects of having over 8000 rockets aimed in their direction over the years. Yet, they and their fellow kibbutzniks remain hopeful that the quiet which they have enjoyed over the past 2 months will continue.

Nonetheless, it was time to move on, and move on we did. We took yet another Egged bus back to Jerusalem. By the way, I've assumed that you knew that Egged was the name of the national bus company here in Israel. This has proved to be a poor assumption, as someone wrote me saying that they thought I was being funny in calling them Egged buses (as if I would ever yoke about that!). Honest, that's their name. And I must tell you that riding on Egged buses is an experience like no other. Actually, once you're on the bus, the trip is smooth sailing in air-conditioned comfort. However, it is the entering and exiting from these buses that is the challenge. When a bus is loading or unloading, there is a crushing of bodies like you have never experienced before. All want be on the bus (or off the bus) immediately. Children, bubbies, soldiers with big guns, backpackers, Chassids (deeply religious Jews), you name it, it looks like the scene in 'Titanic' before Leonardo bites it in the middle of the Atlantic. Pushing, shoving, and the occasional loud voice all combine in a frenzy of arms and legs, backpacks and shopping bags, all with a single mission--get on (or off) at all costs. Even we prim and proper Canadians and Americans among them, who might otherwise passively stand in a queue for their turn to board become Gunga Din, with a 'take no prisoners' approach. It is something to behold, let me tell you. Eventually, everyone gets on (or off) and life returns to some semblance of normalcy. Nonetheless, I have resorted to telling people that I am a veteran of Israel's 2009 Egged Wars.

In Jerusalem, we had some unfinished business. Although we spent 3 busy days there perhaps 10 days earlier, there were still things we still wanted to see and do, so it was a return engagement for us. This time around, we visited City of David, the original site of Jerusalem. Many don't know this, including us until we visited there, but the walled Old City of today was not the original Jerusalem. The City of David, a relatively recently excavated section of Jerusalem near the Old City is the actual site of the first city of Jerusalem, and went through several groups of occupiers, being destroyed and rebuilt many times over the past 5000 years. David, as King, ruled over the whole of Israel and its 12 tribes from this very spot. We toured sections excavated and opened as recently as 1 year ago, which reveal an intricate and sophicated infrastructure which existed to accommodate the citizenry. Most impressive of these was Hezekial's tunnel, built in 2700BC to deliver water to the residents from the northern part of Israel. Water was the lifeblood for a city under regular siege by one set of invaders or another, and these tunnels delivered the water needed to sustain residents at all times, but particularly when a siege was underway. We actually walked for 45 minutes in knee-high water through pitchblack narrow winding underground tunnels (we were told to bring flashlights). The experience was Disney-esque, and fun, although we were relieved to see the light of day at the end of the tunnel. 

Our tunnel experience continued at another totally-different site that we visited. The Western Wall is considered to be the holiest Jewish site existing today. The Second Temple stood near this support wall back before it was destroyed in 70 AD. However, many people don't know that the wall they see is only one small section of the entire wall. Recent excavations have revealed the continuation of that wall which is found underground, and a tunnel now exists which allows visitors to see this part of the wall. This tunnel tour is a hot ticket in town and booked well in advance. It is only after taking the tour does one get a sense of the enormity of King Herod's undertaking to build the Temple Mount (the plateau upon which the temple was located). For instance, we saw one stone estimated to weigh 500-600 tons (yes, that's tons!). This stone is believed to be the largest single stone ever used in any building anywhere in history. Now for the mind-numbing part--it was located at least 7 levels up from bedrock. How it was moved to this spot and hoisted to that level is beyond imagination since it was done 2000 years ago. We walked on streets located underground that Romans tred upon 2000 years ago. 
What an exciting way to spend our time. My camera hummed with activity.

FInally, our Jerusalem stay was concluded with a long walk to the busy downtown district, and to Ben Yehuda street, a hip pedestrian only area, abuzz with shops, cafes, street performers, and great people-watching opportunities. We found the Ben Yehuda market a few blocks away, reminiscent of life 100 years, as it teemed with people picking up their vegetable, meat, and sundries, shopping from stalls with men yelling out their wares. the cacaphony of the market was ever-present. We bought our own fixings for a picnic dinner, and proceded to enjoy our last night in Jerusalem, a city without equal.

After Jerusalem, our trip will be taking a whole different spin, as we leave the days of public transit, the trains, and the buses for the air-conditioned (ahh!) comfort of 4 wheels. We decided to rent a car to visit the northern part of Israel, comprising the Mediteranean coast from Tel Aviv up to the Lebanese border, and then over to the Sea of Galilee and Golan. Travel books advise that a car is the way to do this, since sites are so scattered about and the countryside is extremely scenic. Who were we to argue, particularly since these parts are known for extreme heat and humidity? Thus, as of yesterday, we are in the air-conditioned (ahh!) comfort of a Hyundai Getz, a zippy little thing, and I'm enjoying being behind the wheel after almost 3 months. While I haven't quite adjusted to the short fuses of Israeli drivers and their horn dexterity, I'm getting better. Bonnie has been doing a fine job as navigator. a skill she has honed from our many auto trips over the years, and we are a finely-tuned machine with all engines firing---except when we get lost and have to ask for directions in our broken Hebrew-English. The answers in their broken English-Hebrew sometimes leave us more confused than before we asked, but we're doing quite nicely overall, so far. 

Today, we visited Rosh Hanikra, within sight of the Lebanese border, where we took a cable car down to the caves and grottoes formed by the crashing waves of the sea. The water was irredescently blue, and the tunnels taking us to the grottos and caves were slick. The sea air, crashing waves, and white rockface were stunningly beautiful. 

From there, we drove to Acre, about 1/2 hour away, and toured the best-preserved Crusader city in existance today. It is almost fully-intact and well over 1000 years old. The buildings were impressive in their size and design. Here, knights lived and worked alongside the denizens of the town living within its walls. The site has remained intact despite successive occupiers who each added their own destruction or construction to it. Much was originally buried until achaelogists excavated portions of it. Today, people still live here, taking the history of the place in stride.

After visiting Acre, I had a moment of clarity, a realization that I had not as yet identified, but was crystalized by this visit. One so simple that throughout our entire trip, it had alluded me:  I realized that this moment in time is nothing more than one link in an unbroken chain. The world has gone on before us, and will go on after us. In this trip, we had visited historical sites, archaeological sites, and beautiful natural sights, but we are all simply passing through. Perhaps, the most we can hope, or aim for is to leave this world just a little bit better for those who come after us. It's this perspective that leads me to conclude that when I named this blog "Cruising into the Past", I had neglected this important consideration. Perhaps, I should have called it "Cruising from the Past into the Future". 

Stay tuned for more.....

Best wishes,
David and Bonnie
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cissie.retired on

traveling into the future
Boy, am I going to miss these superb, enriching, detailed travel logs you have written at each destination. I applaud all your courage and bravery to go where many dare not go and to share each and every moment you experienced and enjoyed with us back home. Looking forward to your 'gazillions' of pictures....

melissagquest on

I'm so there
Wow! This blog about the underground areas and excavated city have captured my attention. These are things I know I want to see and, thanks to your blogging, I know about booking in advance!

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