Spring in the Holy Land

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I recently visited Israel at invitation of Marshal Turism (marshal.ro) and my friend Dana Savuica (www.danasavuica.ro).

There’s a lot to say about the Holy Land, but I’m trying to stick just to a few places you really need to see!

Both Dana and I agreed to be the most appropriate period of the year to go on such a journey…We packed our luggage carefully, knowing that at the customs we will go through various interviews, according to some people…rather harsh, in my opinion… I would say that are necessary, given the political context of the area, and it is fairly ok – if you have nothing to hide. We arrived well at Tel Aviv, a city with a special charm, located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.

Modern, in a fast expansion, the second largest city of Israel gains ground, every day, from the land of the precious „Old New Earth” and of ancient Yafo/Jaffa.

The cozy Metropolitan Hotel (www.hotelmetropolitan.co.il), to which our group was registered, offered us a great view of the city, a good breakfast and a great dinner, but also wifi at high speed – very important thing, given the phone tariffs to and from Israel! Pay attention to this issue, if you do not want to have a shock when coming back home!

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The next day, early in the morning, we embarked on a bus driven skillfully by Haim-an Arab Christian. Bonus, the driver is very friendly and speaks, quite well… Romanian! We left for the Old City of Jerusalem, place with a holy and sacred history for 4 billion believers, Christians, Muslims or Jews.

It is the place where, for all these people, appeared the faith in God. Same God! Half the population of this planet-a part where I belong to – believes in a force, a supreme entity that cannot be represented in any way, but which we find in everything that surrounds us. It is the city where believers, regardless of religion, live in harmony with the rest for their fellows and with respect for the path they have chosen to receive in their soul our God, of all of us. A cosmopolitan, heterogeneous city, a mixture of races, nations, spoken and written languages, colours, sensations, perfumes, churches, flags, spices, souvenirs, incense and myrtle smell, recognized by UNESCO as part of mankind’s universal heritage.

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Until you get to the entrance gates of the old town, you have to go on a road, as beautiful as slippery -literally! So, the right footwear is VITAL. The same with WATER, at small glasses!

The churches are „planted” over places with religious significance and represent a true masterpiece, the domes being covered with biblical scenes painted with mastery beyond compare.

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The walls are covered with gorgeous mosaics that have preserved even today the glow of old days…

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The millennial history of the place is impressive, locked between the walls that rise even after so many tumultuous moments through which it has passed, over the time, this true Kingdom of Heaven…

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Gethsimani garden is a miracle, by the simple fact that olive trees, even if a few, have about 2000 years old, it seems, all come from the same tree… If these olive trees could talk, they would tell us, probably, how they witnessed „the greatest story ever told”…

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Via Dolorosa is a little bit too commercial for my taste, but I am told that it has always been… Anyway, don’t waste your time with souvenirs from this area, it will cost you more than its price! Pay attention to all these „tourist trap” -the places by which any group of tourists passes in a hurry, are eager to take home a piece of „something”… anything -often at an exorbitant price. You will find the same things, at much better price, in other areas of the city or the country. And as the Euro hasn’t a great power, dollars are recommended – in small bills. Tip: Negotiate at the moment of the transaction!

I wish I had more time and to stay more in each of the 14 stops where, Jesus, on his way to the place of crucifixion, stopped to take a breath. I felt the need to do the same thing, and that, without having another „burden” than to make sure I didn’t lose myself from the group I went there! The Church of the Holly Sepulchre is the ultimate goal for all Christian pilgrims, a monument that takes time, patience -due to the large number of visitors -and very much attention. The history of Christianity begins right there and the goals have a meaning above all words…

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Jerusalem has many important sights to see, but I think we have visited the significant ones…

After this experience, I can say with my hand on the heart that such itineraries are recommended to be done with a specialized travel agency. You will get rid of the trauma of waiting to the queue -the travel agencies have a special treatment -but you will also get a lot of useful advice right there and you can learn only from those who frequently come to this destination. In addition, it is comforting as an experienced guide as Mr. Antonescu -director of Marshal Turism, to make a summary of the huge information you face at very tourist site you visit… and there are many on the list!

How to choose from the huge number of churches and places of worship, each and every one more beautiful, located over holy places for all believers who take all the way just to step on the blessed Earth… The itinerary the travel agency makes available is a tight one, but I think that at the end of the experience, you can say -with your hand on the heart -that it’s worth it.

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A new day, another destination…

Lake Tiberias, Gennesaret, Ginosar, the Sea of Galilee or the Kinneret Sea are, in fact, the same lake with fresh water from which all Israel draws its sap. Also there were found the oldest houses in the world, obviously, the ones known until now.

The spectacle of nature is absolutely fabulous, and the area has a special aura, especially that some of Jesus ‘ miracles were done in this part of the country. And the Mountain of Happiness is exactly is its name.. An authentic garden of Eden!

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We visited a kibbutz, a small community that deals with agriculture nowadays and which possesses an impressive museum where it is exposed a wooden boat specific to the time when Peter was fishing in the Sea of Galilee. The boat is 2000 years old and has been recovered from the fresh water mud, after a prolonged drought.

But Peter’s house, one of Jesus ‘ apostles, seems to be in Capernaum -which, translated, means „The village of Nahum”. The temple of Capernaum, build over the synagogue where Jesus met his disciples, is a very special place now. It happened to be there in a special moment, which remained deep in my heart and in the memory of the photo camera, the moment that a white dove took his flight like an angel of peace.

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In the Hozeva Valley lies one of the most spectacular monastic settlements I have ever seen. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the church, and the outfit must be a decent one -a Greek priest makes a severe „check” at the entrance. The road is quite abrupt, and merchants in the area offer you the possibility of a „journey with the donkey”.

The problem is that neither the merchants nor the poor donkey have too much confidence due to the slippery road that is waving through the defile that is dangerously deep at your feet. You don’t even know for whom you should feel more mercy, for the people of the place not having too many possibilities to gain or for the donkey running every time a customer comes closer! Anyway, it’s awful. Conclusion? I prefer to walk as much as I can…

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Jordan’s water also represents a natural border between Israel and neighbouring countries, and bathing can only be done in special places where religious ceremonies take place. After it pass a road of 251 kilometers, that turns it into green in its path, the river finds its end in… Dead Sea!

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„Lake of salt” or ” Sea of Death”, as the name suggests, does not allow any living creature to survive in its waters at 429 meters below sea level. The water has the highest salinity, 34%, being the deepest hypersaline lake on Earth. The sea is very warm and you don’t need to know how to swim, you’ll float no matter what the scale shows. Water has an oily consistency and… it stains! Don’t worry, the stains are going to wash!

The benefits of the products extracted from the Dead Sea are known since ancient times, this area being protected nowadays and it’s an important source of income for for the beauty and tourism industry, attracting visitors from all over the world.

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It was a beautiful vacation, which I would repeat anytime!

Israel is a country that you can fall in love with, especially if you get to know at least some of its secrets…

And the rain that fell over the sunny Jerusalem -on the last day of our visit -and the invisible hand that „painted” in the sky the two overlapping rainbows made me believe that, where the light touches the mountain, there’s still a treasure that some have discovered, others… still looking for it! But to see it can only be seen with the eyes of the mind and you will always carry in your hearts from the moment you step on the Holy Land of the city…

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Photo credit: personal archive

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