Backpack Benji

My Blog (posts are chronological from bottom to top)

Jerusalem.

Jerusalem! The ancient Biblical city full of incredible history.  A most holy site for Christians, Jews and Muslims.  Our first stop was at a vantage point along the Jericho Road with an excellent view of the entire city including the iconic Dome of the Rock – the Islamic shrine with its entire roof covered in pure gold which was built centuries ago.  We checked out some nearby stony, centuries old caverns, before making our way toward the walled city.


Along the way, we stopped at the Mount of Olives, a small mountain ridge which offers a unique view to the great wall surrounding the Holy City. Here there are over 150,000 graves along with many olive trees still growing.  Experts have carbon tested these trees and certified them to be the oldest olive trees in the world.  I went into the Chapel of the Ascension where a very solemn and sacred service was in progress.  The church was built upon the spot where Jesus ascended into heaven and where prophecy says he shall return and the mountain shall be split in two and the dead will be resurrected.  I walked down toward the Kidron Valley and to the Garden of Gethsemane, and then prepared to enter Old Jerusalem.


I entered Jerusalem via the Dung Gate, a gate inside the wall which was named after the location referred to in the Book of Nehemiah. Adjacent to the Dung Gate is the Temple Mount, which according to Torah law, is unable to be visited due to its holiness.  I next visited the Western Wall.  This ancient limestone wall was built by Herod the Great with the original foundations laid by the Biblical King Solomon, and is the holiest place in Jerusalem where Jews are permitted to pray.  Some Christians call this the Wailing Wall because they say the Jews go here to weep over the destruction of the ancient Temples – a term that many Jews actually find offensive.  Since the wall is part of the original Temple Mount and closest to where the Holy of Holies was located in ancient Israel, and since it is taught that after the destruction of the Temples, God removed his presence from his sanctuary and placed it on the wall, this is single place on earth believed to be where one can be closest to God.  Ancient Jewish Law states that praying here is as if you have prayed at the Throne of Glory because here is, in essence, the Gate of Heaven which is always open to hear prayer.  Doctrine further outlines that praying in the direction of Jerusalem, and specifically here – at this Gate of Mercy is beneficial in that the prayers from this ancient Israeli site ascend straight into Heaven.  I washed my hands and covered my head out of respect, and went to the wall to pray.  There is a practice of slipping written prayers into the crevices of the Wall, and I had mine ready.  My time at the Western Wall was a special moment of worship and I backed away as I left, in a sign of respect and reverence.


We next ventured out the Western Wall tunnels and along the Via Dolorosa, the way of grief, sorrow, and suffering, where Jesus bore his cross on the way toward his crucifixion. Jerusalem is quartered into four sections: The Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian quarters.  Along the Via Dolorosa, we passed from the Muslim Quarter into the Christian Quarter – encountering many shops, cafes and hallways.  The road is made of stone and slanted upwards as we walked past the area where Pontius Pilate convicted Jesus to death.  I placed my hand in the spot where Jesus was said to have fallen against the weight of the cross, and fell against a wall for support, as I made my way toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The Church contains what are essentially the two holiest sites in Christianity including where Jesus was circumcised and presented (purified) to the church, where he drove the money changers out, where he was crucified and endured His Passion on the Rock of Agony (the church is built over the rock of Calvary or Golgotha) and where he resurrected (the tomb encompasses the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where Jesus was buried).


We made our exit from the walled city out of the Jaffa Gate (also called David’s Gate) named after the Port of Jaffa from which the prophet Jonah launched his journey. Just outside the gate is the Tower of David, a distinctive citadel built during the 2nd century.  While there, I enjoyed some fresh pomegranate juice from a local vendor.  Jerusalem was incredible and a must visit pilgrimage for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.


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The Gaza Strip, The Dead Sea, and Tel-Aviv.

Our ship next docked in precarious Ashdod, site of suicide bombings and a giant military cargo port, connected to the south by the rocket-battered Gaza strip.  Ashdod was an important Canaanite and Philistine city and mentioned in the Bible when the apostle Phillip preached there after baptizing the Ethiopian.  My friend and I decided to make our way down to the Dead Sea for the day, to soak in the healing mud and to experience the fabled waters.

Our trip was down, down, down and for the first time ever, my ears popped just like they would if I had been flying in a plane, but from the downward elevation as we ventured to the lowest point on earth.  The Dead Sea is one of the worlds saltiest bodies of water, and a natural health spa that supports no marine life. Face down swimming and splashing is strictly prohibited as severe damage to the eyes could result.  As I crept into the water, I found myself bobbing up and not able to stand – anyone who cannot swim would have no problem in the Dead Sea, since floating freely comes natural, and it is near impossible to go under.

I covered my body in the mineral rich mud and soaked for hours in the water and sun.  After our time there, we showered and changed and hung out at the lowest bar/restaurant in the world and enjoyed the late-year, warm, Middle Eastern weather.


After returning to our ship at dark, we ventured back out and decided to catch a local bus down to Tel-Aviv.  We walked the city and made our way to a rooftop bar called SuraMare where we hung out and enjoyed incredible views of the Tel-Aviv skyline.  On our journey, no one spoke nor was anything written in English.  We had to catch taxis and encountered many people carrying rifles strapped to their backs in the increasingly sketchy city at night.  It was a bit intense and we arrived back very very late but the excitement was worth the adventure.

 

Crete.

Chania, Crete, Greece rests on the site of Kydonia, one of the most important cities of the ancient world and conquered many times over by Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks. Our ship docked at dawn and I made my way to a secluded vantage point to enjoy the still waters and clean air as I watched the sunrise over Souda Bay.  After breakfast I headed into town, following the ancient Byzantine wall of Chania which used to circle the entire city.


I ventured into old town where I wound through narrow lanes, and a charmingly exotic landscape. The view was a crisscross of Ottoman architecture and Venetian mansions.  A historic Venetian lighthouse watched over the harbor where Arab pirates once ruled, and I was amazed at the clarity of the inviting waters.  After perusing the quaint shops, inviting café’s, and colorful neighborhoods, I ducked into a covered but open sided café called Akti Tompazi – which I later learned is one of the best restaurants in the Old Venetian Harbor. I enjoyed spicy feta cheese with crunchy bread, warm dolma (stuffed grape leaves), and Imam Baildi (stuffed eggplant).


For the best olive oils, crystal clear waters, inviting people, and incredible food, come visit Crete!