An Israeli bus and tour guide picked us up at the border and whisked us away to our first stop of the trip: Masada.
I’ve been interested in visiting Masada for at least the last ten years, ever since BYU hosted an extensive exhibit of artifacts from there. But I have to say, as grand as Masada is, I came away disappointed. Maybe it was the oppressive heat. Maybe it was the stress of dealing with an overtired almost-2-year-old. Or maybe it was the hideously campy introductory video they made us watch that left me gagging on the taste of modern Zionism. In the end, we only survived by telling Miriam stories about all the horsies that must have been running around the place back in the day.
At the bottom of the mountain, we were ambushed by various cold-drink vendors. It was so hot, and we were so thirsty. At the time, twenty shekels didn’t sound like too much to pay for a nice, cool lemonade. It was only later that we processed the fact that first of all, that lemonade cost almost five dollars, and second of all, it didn’t taste that good. Oh well.
Next was Qumran, the place where they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. Can you tell from the picture what a barren wasteland this place is? The introductory video at the Qumran visitor’s center wasn’t quite as bad as the one at Masada, though it did make us sick in another way. The first full half of the movie was a helicopter fly-over of the region, and it was absolutely motion-sickness-inducing. We all had to cover our eyes.
On the way to Jericho, we passed through a checkpoint with Palestinian flags flying. It was the first time I’d ever seen a Palestinian flag displayed in any official capacity, so I took a covert photograph.
Jericho was hot, but also interesting. Miriam got a free bracelet from one of the shops at the site, and one of the (male) students got an unrequested shoulder rub from one of the (male) vendors.
Driving into Jerusalem was like a dream. One minute, you’re ascending through the city’s surrounding hills. The next minute, you emerge from a tunnel to a full view of the Dome of the Rock and the Old City. It was an amazing feeling.
We didn’t have time at that moment to gaze at the city. The bus took us straight to the Jerusalem Center to drop off the BYU students. One of the professors and his wife came with us to our hotel.
The short story about our hotel is that we ended up not staying there. The hotel clerk appeared to be completely caught by surprise at our arrival – it took a good five minutes to summon him from whatever back room he was snoozing in. The room itself was nothing worse than we’ve stayed in before (Omm Qais, I’m looking at you), but the facilities were rather terrible. It was the kind of place where I couldn't, in good conscience, allow Miriam to touch the floor. The final straw was when we found out that there was no (working) phone on the premises and no internet connection. We were in a new hotel within the hour.
We had dinner at the Jerusalem Center. The JC is an amazing, wondrous magical land of rainbows and butterflies. I cannot say enough good things about that facility. I had been told that it was like a five-star hotel, but nothing could have prepared me for what a fantastic place it was. Miriam went almost hysterical at the sight of real, green grass that she was actually allowed to play on. I went almost hysterical at the sight of green salad that was actually edible.
After dinner, Miriam promptly went into overstimulation mode with the fireworks that were going off all over the city, kites flying near the center, fish in a small fish pond on one of the terraces, and that green grass I mentioned before. Then it was back to the new and improved hotel to rest up for the long day of travel to come.