Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

On Christmas Eve, we went to Sacrament meeting, which was wonderful and filled with lots of singing of Christmas carols, and then we hurried back to the apartment for a quick lunch so we could get on the vans to go to Bethlehem! Bethlehem was simply amazing as well. The buses took us almost all the way to Manger Square where all the festivities were happening. It really was like a big carnival or something with all the people, dancing, music, and everything. We then went in the the Church of the Basilica of the Nativity. The Armenians were finishing a service so we had to wait around for about 15 or 20 minutes and then we used what Elaine termed our "Bethlehem Fast Pass". Eric's blog has a good description of what happened, but basically we got to go to the front of a three hour line to go down in to the cave where Jesus may have been born. 

While we were waiting, a bunch of military men came in and went up these stairs and then a few minutes later they all came back down...

In the cave

Nana, Eric, and Sam reaching in to touch the star

Catholic Church

We then made our way back out to Manger Square after using the smallest and grossest bathrooms ever in a church... 

...and there was a parade making its way out of Manger Square and down the street

Jingle Bells! Sorry this is kinda poor quality, but it was windy!

After watching some of the parade, we found a little place to get what we thought would just be a drink and some quiet while we waited to find a taxi to take us back to the security gates to leave West Bank. Little did we know that we were really walking in to one of the funnest restaurants I have been to in awhile! 

After a wonderfully exciting lunch (where the servers were handing out Hookah left and right for people to smoke....), we went down to the basement from the second floor of the building we were on to get a taxi. What we didn't know was that to go to the basement we would have to go down 8 flights of stairs... Oh what an experience this place is. We finally got a taxi and all piled in. Our driver managed to avoid all chaos of the traffic by taking us on a bunch of back roads that were SO steep, but got us to the gate in about 10 minutes rather than 30 or 40. When you get there, you first walk through this long, long pathway...

And at the end you go through a mini security and enter in to basically no mans land. We refereed to it as no mans land because it was a gap between security points and it just looked like a war zone.. no one around, no buildings, nothing. Except for this sign...

In case you can't tell, this sign says Jerusalem-Bethlehem Love and Peace...

And now for some sad pictures of security and the Separation Wall...

It was super creepy as we were standing in line to go through the check point out of West Bank because everyone kept staring at me, especially the men. It had happened as we were walking down the streets as well but its just weird when everyone stares at you because of your hair. See, most women here either have black hair or their hair is covered so to see not only just hair flowing out and about but also said hair being bright blonde is quite a shocker and like a novelty per say. Oh what an experience. 

We then got in the vans and drove down to Shepherds Field. We sang some Christmas carols and Eric paraphrased some scriptures as the sun was setting and a lone single star came up over Bethlehem.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hezekiah's Tunnel, Via Dolorosa Procession, and the Jewish Quarter

Wow, THREE blog posts in one day is a lot... but here it is! On the 23, Nana was not feeling so great so Eric and I took the day to go out and do a lot of things that required a lot of walking and such that Nana was not interested in doing or was unable to do. We started out at Hezekiah's tunnel. It is in the City of David and a historical account of the city can be found here. This was SO much fun for me. It is a long, dark tunnel full of twists and turns and short places and really tall parts. 

Me with bangs that need to be cut

Stairs going down to the tunnel

Getting ready to go in!

This was the water level, mostly just at the beginning and end of the tunnel

So narrow...

... and short! It was at max about 5 feet in a lot of places

But other places, just toward the end of the tunnel, had very high ceilings.

This video is fabulous and entertaining... a MUST watch I believe :)

At the end! We made it!

After the tunnel we walked around a little bit more to these places...

Arab community

After the tunnel adventure, we walked up to the Old City. We walked through the Jewish Quarter for the first time which was interesting because in I believe the 80's, this area was bombed so everything had to be rebuilt. You can tell when you are in the Jewish Quarter because even though everything is made of the same type and color of bricks, it looks so much newer and cleaner. We saw the remains for the First Temple Period which happened to be a part of Hezekiah's City Wall. We also saw some Maccabean ruins, Herodian remains, and part of a Cardo, which is basically a Roman Main Street. 

Dung Gate, where you enter to the Jewish Quarter

Eric and his friends, the Romans

We were going to do the other part of the Rampart Walk but it was closed because it was coming up on the Sabbath (which here starts at sundown on Friday nights). So with time to kill, we went to see the "modern mall" here which was SO drastically different than everything else in Israel and then got some lunch at a little cafe type place on a side road inside the Old City.

The very nice owner squeezing fresh pomegranate juice

Sprite in Arabic!

Then after lunch we made our way down to the Roman Catholic Stations of the Cross procession. What an experience this way! SOOO different than anything I ever imagined. There are 15 stations that go along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, 5 of which are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There were SO many people that when the road got narrow, it got crazy intense and we got a little behind and missed one station, but ended up back at the church at the same time to finish the procession. It is hard to explain the whole experience but here is a video to give you a glimpse as to what it was like...

And some pictures to go....

After the procession, we went back through the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall to meet Nana and Rachel so Nana could go to the Wall for the first time. 

Happy Hanukkah!

*Can you believe I am here? I still can't and I have been here for 11 days!*