Friday, May 18, 2018

Israel Trip

Since our time was coming to a close in Baku we wanted to take advantage of easy flights to visit Israel - there is actually a direct flight that was reasonably priced with Azerbaijan Airlines and once our friends the Brownings offered to host us we knew we had to make it happen!

We headed there for about five days, shorter than I would have liked, but it was all we could swing. We packed those days full and the girls did so amazing walking (this was our first trip sans stroller!) and we made sure to have some downtime to just hang. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and made our first visit to the beach, a short walk from our friend's house.

The next day we got on the road semi-early and headed to Nazareth and Sea of Galilee. We knew we wouldn't be able to accomplish everything we wanted to see, but it was still hard to drive up to INSERT NAME just after it closed as well as the Mount of Beatitudes. However, we had a lovely time with the places we did see and were thankful for that!

In Nazareth we visited Nazareth Village, a replica of the time of Jesus with shepherds, olive press, and woodworking. The girls enjoyed seeing the animals and stretching after the car ride.

Next we headed to the Sea of Galilee to meet Daniel and his worship boat. The girls especially loved this part and after a hectic time trying to locate the tour (we'd been given the wrong location and the boat was literally waiting on us as we ran up the dock), I was thankful to sit down and worship the Lord.

On Thursday we made the drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and spent one night there. We met our tour guide early and walked and walked and walked. The girls were so good in the crowded and uneven streets and we got to see some amazing places. We began at the Damascus Gate and made our way to the Western Wall (commonly called the Wailing Wall).

Then we headed up this bridge you see above to the Dome of the Rock before making our way across and back towards part of the Via Dolorosa path.

We didn't walk the entire Via Dolorosa (believed to be the path Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion), but we walked portions of it as we made our way to Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was challenging weaving through the crowded streets with all the girls and we saw a group of visitors bearing a large wooden cross and walking the entire Via Dolorosa in memory of Jesus.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (a site where they believe Jesus was crucified and buried) was beautiful, but very crowded. Our tour guide watched the girls so we could sardine our way to touch a portion of stone believed to be from Jesus' tomb. 

Next we headed up to the Mount of Olives for a great view of the Old City. We slowly made our way down, said goodbye to our tour guide, and headed back to our apartment to rest and grab some dinner. 

Friday morning we scheduled a group tour to Bethlehem since we had heard mixed things about driving our rental car into the Palestine occupied areas. The tour was fine, but we felt rushed and didn't get to stop and see Shepherd's Hill like we'd hoped. In hindsight I'd recommend driving to the border, walking the 15 min across, and using our contact to send a taxi and take you to his shop and the church. His name is Nabeel and since we weren't sure our time he literally sent us close to a hundred pictures of things we were interested in buying and had them packed and ready for Jason to pickup. He was amazing!

Anyway, back to the tour - crossing the border was easy and we walked the abandoned streets listening to the difficult history of the area as we made our way to the Chapel of the Milk Grotto. 

Next we headed to take our place in line at Church of the Nativity. This is where things went a bit wrong. Our tour guide disappeared saying he'd meet us inside. Madison had to go to the bathroom so we got separated and I had three different tour guides ask why I was even in line when children can enter through the back entrance - they just needed to ask the guards. One tour guide took pity and helped me and the twins through the crowds to go around back, but then we couldn't find Jason and Madi. We finally were reunited, but it soured the experience and would be the main reason I wouldn't recommend the tour we used (our guide should have known that and there was another family with a little boy in our group!) [I'm also sharing this story so that if anyone reading visits they can just go straight up the guards and enter from the back with their kids - or use Nabell - that's an even better idea, haha!]

Once we were finally reunited we got to see the birthplace of Jesus together and Madi was able to touch the inside. She's old enough to understand some of the significance of where we were visiting, but the twins are still too young. We walked around the church some before making our way back through the city towards the bus.

Here's our amazing olive-wood nativity set from Bethlehem - doesn't get more authentic than that, haha!

When we got back to Jerusalem we headed straight to find parking to visit The Garden Tomb. It was a total God-happening. There was very little parking available and we saw a lot, but it was blocked. The guy said it was full and we begged him to please let us park saying we had three little kids, we'd leave the keys, and we'd only be one hour to visit The Garden Tomb (we hadn't had time the previous day). Praise the Lord he let us in and we had just a five minute walk to The Garden Tomb. This was probably my favorite site we saw in Jerusalem. It was quiet and serene and after the busy-ness of the morning we just meandered through enjoying the peace. 

Once we left (after thanking the parking attendant profusely), we headed towards the Dead Sea. It was hot and while everyone was excited at first, the salty water changed their tunes and only Evelyn would go in and float (later Madi covered her arms in the mud). (And since then every time I mention swimming Olivia reminds us she doesn't want to go to the "bad swimming pool" again - poor thing had some eczema on the back of her legs that the salt water burned). 

We made the drive back to Tel Aviv exhausted after the previous few days' adventures and enjoyed sleeping in the following morning! Once everyone was up and moving we headed to brunch with the Brownings and enjoyed a delicious meal before heading to Cesserea National Park. The kids ran and climbed and enjoyed not having a schedule for a change!

That evening our friends had a work event so headed to the beach and literally spent hours just hanging in the sand, having dinner, and letting the girls play. It was well-deserved after all the walking they did and we loved watching them. 

Sunday morning we said goodbye to our amazing hosts and headed to the Carmel Markets. We walked around enjoying fresh juice and donuts before going to the Zoo. They have a safari drive-through portion that the girls loved and then we spent our time leisurely walking around the zoo for hours until it was time to head to the airport. It was also Mother's Day and a lovely way to spend our last day in Israel!

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