As previously noted, I took a break from the blog when we took a break from the academic part of our visit. Unfortunately, between very spotty internet in Nahariya and our hotel in Tel Aviv coupled with the need to get grades done for my class, I am only returning to my writing tonight. Rather than provide an overly long and overly boring essay, I will start with the weekend activities and begin anew with our activities and impressions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Friday morning was dedicated to touring the Old City of Jerusalem. We started in the Jewish Quarter and made our way through the Muslim and Christian Quarters. For those of you who have never been here, the Old City is truly the crossroads of the three monotheistic religions yet all seem to be able to successfully coexist. We started in the Garden Tomb in East Jerusalem then made our way through Herod's Gate and into Muslim Quarter. After walking past store after store and vendor after vendor, we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where we spent a significant time exploring this amazing structure. Once the Old City was done, we gave everyone the afternoon off to spend the rest of the day on their own. In Israel, Shabat effectively begins at 3:00 when almost every retail outlet, bank and restaurant shuts through Saturday at sundown. This was also the day we said farewell to my lovely wife Lydia who had to fly back to Washington that evening.
Saturday we got an early start when we headed south into the Judean desert to visit Masada and the Dead Sea. For those unfamiliar with the story of Masada, you might want to check out http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/masada.html where you can read the complete story. Rather than climb the snake trail up the side of the mountain, we took the tram and had an amazing visit to this truly wondrous sight. Returning from Masada, we stopped at a beach next to the Dead Sea. Located almost 1,400 feet below sea level, it is the lowest spot on earth. A number of our students took a dip in the ultra salty water and then came out to cover themselves in Dead Sea mud. The day was perfectly clear and we could see the coast of Jordan directly across the Dead Sea.
Sunday was a day of transition. We checked out of our hotel to head north but first, we were able to get into the tunnels beneath the Western Wall. Our guide gave us a wonderful introduction to the tunnels and pulled together for us how the Old City has evolved since the time of Herod. We said farewell to Jerusalem and drove north to the north coastal site of Casearea. These old Roman ruins date back to the time of (you guessed it) Herod who found it a convenient port to resupply his efforts to build his little empire. There are a number of lovely little seaside restaurants, art galleries and other vendors. After our visit to Casearea, we drove through Haifa and stopped in Akko for an all too brief visit to this amazing underground city. By all indications, Akko is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world dating back to the time of ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs. Departing Akko after dark, we drove another 45 minutes or so until we arrived at our final destination for the day, Nahariya, a beautiful coastal resort just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border with Lebanon. Just a side note, the hotel was hosting a convention of police officers from across Israel and everyone of them was packing heat.