I finished off #3 yesterday
Day 3 Trip report
Thankyou for asking. On to Day 4.
Day 4 was Sunday. We got up nice and early, and went up onto Temple Mount. There was more security there than in the 1980s, airport-style loops to walk through, men and women separated. Big open square, with enclosures at the Western Wall end. The space for male worshippers is much bigger than for women; also the male side was cordoned off, a partition that now has a grille on top, so that you Can see but only if you peer, and generally if you're a bit taller than me. On the women's side, women could walk up to the wall and touch it, which I did: the Western Wall is part of the Second Temple, all that remains of it, and it's the Temple that was there in Jesus's day, so I wanted to touch something that he'd actually seen.
Then up a covered walk way onto Temple Mount proper. Again, in my 'olden days', tourists could visit the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhrah - see, I'm working on my Arabic!) but that's no longer possible; their authorities withdrew permission as a response to the separation wall. Because it was early in the year and early in the morning, there were very few other people up there, and I got some great photos, the Dome of the Rock in particular is very beautiful on the outside. There are strict rules about modest clothing up there, and also about behaviour - no 'naughty' behaviour. One of our couples, in their 70s, asked one of our group to take a photo of them, just in the open up there, standing next to each other, holding hands. A guard came and broke them up. Don't get me wrong, rules is rules and people have the right to enforce the rules they've set - but I think this couple were slightly surprised to discover how wickedly erotic they were being.
Back on the bus and on to St. George's Anglican Cathedral. VeryEnglish service. The hymns were sung in English, the Lord's Prayer, and other responses were said simultaneously in English and Arabic, and the sermon was preached twice, first in Arabic, then in English. It was fine, and a lovely compound but next time I'd like to see 'real' Palestinian Christian worship.There are so many denominations represented in Jerusalem - Anglican, Coptic, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many others - I've no idea how indigenous Christians worship.
Back on the bus.
First of all we headed into the Judaean desert, which was amazing. 'Desert' always sounds like flat sand and cactuses to me but the Judaean desert is rock, great fields and fields of steep ravines and high mountains, looking like folded brown paper; incredibly striking, very alien and, well, deserted.
We got out at Wadi Qelt, and climbed up a fairly steep path to a viewing point down on St. George's monastery, which is built into/onto a rocky ledge opposite the valley, often thought to be the "valley of the shadow of death" referred to in Psalm 23. It was very, very impressive indeed, one of the high spots of the trip for me.
Less impressive (just made me smile) was that the path, just a rocky trail, had had a wooden archy entrance built - it was like 'Blazing Saddles', where there's suddenly a toll gate in the middle of the desert. Beside it a juice stall, where those with solid insides got a drink and I sucked disconsolately on my bottle of water. For the first and only time, the tat salesmen were pushy. 'You help a Bedouin'. Hm. One guy pursued me relentlessly, trying to tie a shawl on my head 'to see how it looks'. I knew perfectly well, once he got it on, it would be 'sold', so I said no; no and moved; (repeat both several times). Eventually I stood still, stuck a halt hand in his face and yelled no, and he left. It's not just the persistence that bugged me, it's the fact that in trying to put something on my head, he was touching me, a Western woman, in a way he would not approach and touch one of 'his own' whom he didn't know.
The desert was very special though, I loved being in it but was very grateful that a bus would come and take me through it and away.
We drove to Jericho, and to another co-operative. The salesmen were very pushy, worse than most street traders; they're going to have to learn that that doesn't encourage Brits to buy, just to dig our heels in. In fact, later in the trip it was discovered that one of our group had paid $30 for a shawl someone had bought on the street for $4. At the time she'd thought it expensive but it had come down from $100, and she wanted to support them. However, when she discovered the $4 one, she let our tour leader know: the cut and thrust of haggling is one thing but being ripped off by a store the company had taken us to, that's another. The tour company was great, offered to refund her, tore strips off the store, and arranged a meeting with every tour company in the area to decide whether to use them again. If they lose this trade, sadly it's their own fault for being greedy, and relying on some tourists, like Brits, juggling 3 currencies - our own for reference, and NI Shekels and US Dollars, which are both accepted currencies in Palestine and Israel.
On to lunch - fortunately, I never got tired of Palestinian bread and hummus, which seemed to go down and stay in nicely, while everyone else was shovelling in huge salads and meats, sigh. Then up a very wobbly cable car to the Mount of Temptation. 6 per cabin, great views. We started off chatting normally, then as we got higher and swayed more, and eventually stopped and hung there for 5 l000ng minutes, we got more and more 'British' - it was like something out of a WW2 film, we got terribly stiff upper lip and chatted determinedly about the minutiae of what we could see below us, anything rather than express fear! Just before we moved off again, someone spotted a sticker in the window that said 'Pause to allow passengers on and off. Enjoy the view', and eventually we worked out that it meant we were hanging there while cabins ahead of us unloaded and loaded.
There wasn't much at the top, a restaurant and a viewing point of more desert below. Also a souvenir shop in a cave. The owner came out and told me 'Come and look. It's a very old cave. No charge for coming in'. He laughed when I asked him if there was a charge for getting out but I've been locked into middle eastern shops before! He was so nice that S . and I would have tried to buy something just to reward a far less threatenin sales policy. Fortunately, I spotted a necklace that was just me: it's 4 strands of polished stone chips, every kind of stone you could think of, twisted together with a sliver clasp. I'd hoped to buy a piece of jewellery on my trip. This was by no means fine art but it was me. It started at NIS100 and I got it for NIS60. I was happy.
I was also now out of cash. We drove on to Nazareth and into the next hotel. I planned to walk back into town, about 10 minutes, to get to the nearest ATM. S. insisted on coming with me, which was very kind of her, although I was very happy to go alone, wanted to go alone. Heyho.
A nice room with a tiny balcony. I was assured that beyond the balcony was the Sea of Galilee but it was too dark to tell. I'd have to wait until morning.....