Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tuesday Travels: I Still Don't Know The Way To Comic-Con

A sequel.


8:22AM: Ugh, is it time to wake up? Go back to sleep!
8:23AM: I’m getting too old for this.
8:41AM: Computer, you are being slow, and I don’t like it.
8:45AM: In the waiting room. Yawn.
8:49AM: Might as well put Jesus Christ Superstar on, again, since it is still in my head
8:55AM: I was going to clean while in the waiting room, but I am sleepy. Yawn.
9:01AM: Come on, website, work for me.
9:02AM: I am bored!
9:06AM: Oh, good, tickets are being sold.
9:10AM: But when it is my turn??????
9:18AM: They should prioritize my length of time you have had a login and not had tickets. So someone like me can get them.
9:22AM: I hate the yellow ribbon of doom.
9:25AM: UGH, they are running out of Preview Night already? It’s not even 9:30 yet!
9:27AM: NOOOO PREVIEW NIGHT well, I’ll take four days.
9:37AM: nooooo Saturday. Well, I’ll take three days.
9:41AM: NOOOOO FRIDAY. I’ve yet to figure out whether I should get Thursday and Sunday tickets, or just Thursday?
9:46AM: Probably just Thursday.
9:51AM: noooo Thursday. Well, I’ll gun for Sunday instead!
9:57AM: All gone! #SDCC, you evade me once again!
9:58AM: I should get published so I can go as a presenter.
9:59AM: Should I go to GeekyCon instead?


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday Travels - Israel Reflections, Part Two

Yesterday, I discussed my reflections about my Israel trip. Today, I wanted to provide advice/thoughts on the logistic-y aspect of the trip.

We went through Noseworthy Travel, and they definitely did a good job of choosing sites and getting us from spot A to spot B. I liked our tour guide and driver. I would have preferred maybe a little bit less of a breakneck pace, though; our days were stuffed from dawn to dusk, and I would have liked a little bit more time to explore locations and fewer locations per day. Also, they usually took us to a lunch spot and said, "Here's lunch!", which didn't leave an opportunity to either explore during lunchtime or try different options. I had imagined being able to choose a street vendor for lunch, or wandering around a downtown area like Tiberius or Jerusalem for lunchtime, but that only really happened on the last day. Now, the lunch options were fine and tasty for the most part, but it was not what I expected.

The issue was more finding an ATM. As I mentioned in one of my first blog posts, I had expected to go to an ATM and withdraw shekels for the trip, but we didn't stop anywhere with an ATM until Jerusalem. Dollars were accepted everywhere, but some places had highly questionable exchange rates--and some of those places were where the tour company took us for lunch, so it wasn't like there was another option. Maybe I'm too suspicious, but I am curious about any kickbacks or something like that that the tour company got. I know the company said we didn't need to get shekels, but I'm very glad I did, and if I go again I will make sure to start off with a good chunk of shekels in case we don't stop at an ATM.

My other main issue with the travel company was that flight change. We changed flights, which lost us a night in Israel, and we didn't get a formal apology or any refund. Some people said they'd heard that it was the airline that changed our flight, but I heard it was the travel company, and in either case, you would expect something. That left me unimpressed.

The hotels we stayed at, Maagen Eden and the Olive Tree, were great, and I'd recommend them to someone exploring the area.

If I were to go again, the biggest change I would do would be to try and organize my own flights, at least part of the way. The trip included airfare from LAX, and I just booked a separate flight to and from LA, but while sitting in Newark on the way back, I saw several direct flights to SFO, and they looked so lovely. It would have cut maybe three hours off of my trip, which would have been worth the hassle.

The other idea, which Mum wisely mentioned last week, would have been to go to England for a few days before heading to Israel. A head start of the time change would have really helped, and breaking up the two flights could have also been nice. So if I was to go again, I might do that instead.

Other miscellany:
  • EU plugs, but I definitely saw "Israel Only" adapters. You just need ones for the EU.
  • Expect carbs. Lots and lots of carbs.
  • Drivers are very aggressive, so if you're driving, be prepared. I wouldn't want to drive, but I hate driving, so I might be in the minority there.
Will I go again? I'm not sure. I've seen everything I wanted to see in Israel, with the possible exception of the Jordan River--and then, it's more a matter of wanting to get some photos and possibly wade in it, since I technically did see it. So it's not a must-do again. But I could see, if I have a family, wanting to take them. So maybe I will return in a few decades.

I need a new vacation to start planning. Somebody, invite me somewhere interesting, please.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Musings - Israel Reflections, Part One

Hello from the US again! I have returned victoriously, and have spent the past few days recovering from my trip. I can't tell if I have done a really poor job of fighting jetlag, or it it's harder this time around because it is 10 hours compared to my usual 8, or if it is  because I'm getting old(er). Hopefully the first one.

The trip back was smooth, and I ended up taking an earlier flight back to SFO, so I got to spend the afternoon napping in a real bed as opposed to an airline lounge. The past few days have mostly been a blur of sleeping, seeing people, and dreading returning to work tomorrow. Just as I was getting used to vacationing, I am sent back to the grind! Oh, well.

I wondered, when I left, how I would remember the trip. I had all these plans for careful Biblical reflection and huge blog posts and spiritual revelations in Israel, and it didn't all happen like I had planned (mostly due to jetlag). We've reached the point where I can't remember what I did on what day, or the names of some of the sites I've been to (I couldn't for the life of me remember what Caesarea Phillipi was called yesterday), and everything sort of seems like a dream now. On that hand, I am very glad that I did spent all of the time blogging (yay!), but I needed to make a conscious effort while in Israel to stop taking photos and blogging and to start experiencing and enjoying. Did people have to remember to do that ten years ago, or is that a new phenomenon? I don't know.

But in reflection, there's definitely a few things I want to take note before my memories go completely fuzzy:

Favorite Site: That's tough. I think I'm going to go with the first day and the Sea of Galilee. The issue with some of the more famous sites is there is that tiny thought, in the back of the mind, that things aren't how they were for Jesus. We don't know if the Via Delorosa is actually the walk to the cross. Some of the ruins in Capernaum are from centuries after Jesus. But the Sea of Galilee is almost the same. The landscape may have changed slightly in the past two millennia, and the plants are nowhere near that old, but it's the same body of water, and the landscape might not be identical but is pretty close. I can now set the scene in my own head, which I appreciate. So yes, Sea of Galilee. I think Mount Carmel is a close second.

Favorite Day: Probably February 3rd, which is the day we got to explore around the Sea of Galilee. That being said, our walking tour of Jerusalem (I can't remember the exact date of that) was amazing as well.

Favorite Non-Traditional Site: As in, the one that most people probably don't get to see. I think it was Tel Dan, up by the Lebanese border. It was really pretty, and the ruins were particularly interesting.

Most Fun Site: Dead Sea. I liked floating like an egg. Maybe it isn't the most Biblical site, but it still was a lot of fun.

Least Favorite Site: Perhaps Meggido, because I'm still not sure why we went there. Yes, it was mentioned in the Bible, but so were other places we didn't get to visit, and it was around that point where I felt satisfied with the number of ruins we had seen. I didn't need to see more. I'd have preferred to see other sites, such as...

Biggest Regret: Why, oh why, couldn't we have stopped at the Jordan River for five minutes? It wasn't out the way; we crossed bridges over it around eight times. Would it have really thrown our schedule off so much if we had pulled over and stretched our legs around there? On the bright side, now I'm really glad I didn't wait to get baptized (for a while, I decided to hold out until the Jordan River, but then I realized that I wasn't sure I could justify that to God, so I got baptized in a swimming pool. Good thing I didn't wait, since we didn't stop).

Favorite Souvenir: Photos and experiences are nice, but I also got a little nativity scene made out of olive wood. That'll be nice, to bring out in thirty years and say that I got it in Jerusalem (remember, we couldn't stop in Bethlehem itself, so Jerusalem will do).

Favorite Memory: On a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Or maybe wading in the Sea of Galilee. Something to do with the Sea of Galilee.

Favorite Food: Pita and hummus. We had some really exceptional ones at the fish restaurant. For specific item, though, that pita bread were herbs and olive oil was delicious--I'm hoping to make some this week. On a slightly related note, I finally tried shawarma at the airport, and it was delicious but not what I expected--it tasted like curry, possibly due to turmeric. Not like the shawarma I have had here.

Overall Impressions: Go. You have to go. The thought that kept on coming back to me, while I was there, was shock that I knew so few people who had been over to Israel. People mentioned, which I was trying to find a friend to go with on the trip, that they didn't feel it was safe or it cost too much money. I never felt unsafe, and the money was definitely well spent. If you ever have the opportunity, GO. Trust me. It was the best trip I've ever taken.

Tomorrow, I'll post reflections of some of the actual logistics of the trip.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Jaffa Gate, Not Jaffa Cake

In the next hour, I will be dropping my bags off outside my room, going down and eating Israeli-Chinese food (I’m scared), and then loading onto the bus to go to the airport. It is our last day here! And despite being excited to go back home, I’m actually very sad as I type that.
This entire trip was simply incredible. I’ve seen so many things, and as I was thinking about the crucifixion today, I realized that the entire landscape (in my mind) was different and much more vivid. I’ve seen where things happened, and that has changed things.
Anyway. I have thoughts. I'll blog them from home, since I am rushing to finish this post ahead of our departure.
Today we started off at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. No pictures were allowed inside, but suffice to say that it was a very intense experience. We only had seventy-eighty minutes to look around and I probably only got through a quarter (if that) of everything there, but I'm not sure I could have handled much more of it.

The outside of the museum
The gate into the museum

 Trees, like that above, were planted around the museum to memorialize Gentiles who had helped at least one Jew survive. The specific one above is for a woman who was a plumber in one of the Concentration Camps, and smuggled over a thousand children out of the camps in her van. She even had a dog who would bark when the Nazi guards were coming! She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work, but lost to Obama (the year Obama got it before he was elected) (sigh).

Once you are out of the museum, there's a lovely landscape. It is what you need after everything you've seen and thought about inside.

Next stop--the Garden Tomb!

I found out a bit more about this site versus the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today. Essentially, this site is the Protestant's opinion of where Jesus was crucified and buried, since it takes place outside of the city gates, it is where Jews were often killed by the Romans for crimes, and it seems unlikely that there were two places to kill Jews.

In the Garden

There was a road where those buses are parked, and that is probably where the cross would have been--they have found holes in the ground where crosses were probably put. The Romans wanted the Jews to be buried by the road, so people could see what happened if you cross Rome. The top of the hill was where they stoned people--St. Stephen was stoned up there.

The tomb is at the other end of the garden. There are quite a few other tombs in the area, but this one isn't populated and isn't connected to any other tombs, while most have several chambers for relatives and the like.

I know it seems like there are a lot of people in the tomb, but trust me--it was empty. :)

The cross on the wall is from when a Byzantine church was located around the tomb, which was destroyed by the Persians. The cross on the wall was the Byzantine version of the symbol--it has Jesus' initials, and the alpha and omega at the very end.

One last stop--the Jaffa Gate! It was in a busy area with a shopping mall right nearby, filled with classic American stores like Gap and American Outfitters. It was a stark return to reality and modern society after so many days of inspecting ruins and focusing on history.

And that was it! We went back to the hotel, where I had a quick nap (got to start going back to PST) and packed. My bag is very full-the Packing Ninja in me is ashamed! I guess I just got too many souvenirs for all of you.
I'll post again tomorrow from LAX, and probably a few wrap-up posts, but that's it. I hope you all enjoyed reading these entries. As I said all along, this was partly so I could look back on the posts and remember everything, and partly so I could share this experience with my friends, so I hope you feel a little like you've joined me along the way.
Back to the US!

Monday, February 8, 2016

I Saw King Herod's Palace

So guess what I did last night?

Yes, I watched the Superb Owl. Or some of it, anyway; I fell asleep sometime in the second quarter. The hotel did have a big watch party, which (as far as I can tell) was due to the demands of the big group from one of the Carolina's.

In other news, Happy Lunar New Year! One of the members of our group gave us red envelopes with a piece of chocolate in it, which makes it the most I've celebrated the event in at least six years. Maybe more.

In other news, today I went on a big walking tour of Jerusalem. We started off at what is now called the Lion's Gate, but is about where the Sheep's Gate was back during the Second Temple Period. Since Jerusalem has been destroyed about eighteen times since Jesus was around, most of these walls and buildings are just approximations or "traditional" sites that exist to satisfy pilgrims. Thus, the Sheep's Gate became the Lion's Gate. This gate is where Jesus would have entered on Palm Sunday.

From entering into the old city there, we went immediately to the Pools of Bethesda. Back then, this was where sheep were washed and purified ahead of being sacrificed in the temple, and it would have been a busy area. You can see the pools on the left of the big temple mound in the map.

The pools now are mostly piles of stones, but there was some water from the rain yesterday.

One area of the pools has now turned into a cavern, and there was quite a bit of water down there if you were willing to go spelunking.

I considered dipping my arthritic foot into the water, but then decided that it was too dirty. (It's reasons like that why I probably wasn't able to walk on the Sea of Galilee.)
As you may have been able to predict, there was a church right nearby to celebrate Jesus healing the lame man. This church was named after Mary's parents, who I guess are saints because they were Mary's parents? Nobody was able to give me a clear answer about that one.

The church had amazing acoustics, so we stopped to sing a little bit and listen to other tour groups. It was one of the nicer singing areas in my singing career.

The Priest and I
From here we went to Antonia Fortress, which is where the soldiers would have stayed back in Jesus' time. This is one of the possible starts to the Via Dolorosa (where Jesus would have dragged the cross along ahead of the crucifixion; it is debated where he would have actually started).

A game board, possibly like the one used to divide Jesus' clothing
 After looking around, we started walking along the Via Dolorosa. This goes through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, and is marked by Roman numerals as stops Jesus made during the day (see the engraving in the left corner).

Most of these stops are based in legend and not in anything in the New Testament, so I mostly ignored them. The streets were very narrow, as they probably would have been back then. I always had a vision (possibly supported by ideas such as The Passion of the Christ and not anything Biblical) that the roads were much wider to accompany a large crowd ridiculing Jesus, but in actuality the roads are quite small--a car can squeeze through, but that is about it. 

There's not much room for throngs of people to be watching, or at least a deep one. People were lined up along the road, but not huge crowds like the paparazzi.

Traditional site of where Caiaphas offered to release Jesus, but Barabbas was released instead
 The Via Dolorosa went through a bazaar, which was rather chaotic in the morning.

Stop number four is where Jesus allegedly had to pause, and he put his hand down on the rock to rest. Nowadays people are often praying at the rock, but there wasn't a huge crowd when we walked by, so I went ahead and touched it.

I was never good at not touching things in museums, either

After walking, we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified and buried.

It's a pretty crowded church, and the remaining five stops of the Via Dolorosa are all inside.

There was a long queue inside
I went up some stairs once I got inside to the 11th Station, where Jesus was nailed to the cross. The room had a lovely ceiling.

The ceiling was being cleaned while I was there


Rocks where Jesus was nailed

Station 12 is where Jesus was actually crucified. Unfortunately, that area was roped off, but I got a shot of the chapel.

The stone was nearby, and people were crying over it and praying by it, so I think it is significant but I have no clue of it's significance
Station 13 is a giant rock in the ground, where Jesus was taken off of the cross.

Yup, touched it again.
The final station, station 14, is a tomb. Some sect's believe that this is the tomb where Jesus was buried, but that doesn't adhere to the custom of the day of being buried outside the city walls. So, it's just an empty tomb, and since it was a thirty minute wait to go inside I didn't bother. But it was pretty.

After completing the Via Dolorosa, we walked to Herod's Palace, which is an alternate path Jesus may have walked to the crucifixion. It is a teensy bit shorter than the other path.

I've seen a lot of castles in my time, and this is definitely one of the better ruins I've seen
For a final stop before lunch, we went to Christ Church, which is one of the original churches for Messianic Jews in Jerusalem.

The inside (unfortunately I didn't get any good photos) had both Christian and Jewish symbols.

Next stop: lunch! We had a lovely lunch overlooking the Mount of Olives--you can see the buildings from where we were yesterday.

Once satisfied, it was off to more exploring. We went to see the Jerusalem Wall from the First Temple Period.

See that pile of rubble? That's the wall they found. It's also proof that the city does lie higher than it did back in the day.

From here we went walking to the Wailing Wall. There was quite a bit of interesting art along the way.

Mural of what the city looked like back in the day

Painted lions

Golden menorah from the Temple Institute. The Temple Institute has already created pieces for when they can rebuild the temple, and have trained rabbis as well. As soon as they get the site, this menorah is moving to the new temple.
I was always told that the Wailing Wall was unimpressive, but I found it to be cool. This is the closes wall to where the Holy of Holies would have been, so it's the most important site in Judaism because it is the closest one can be to God. For Christians, it isn't quite so significant, but people still leave notes there--as our Guide said, it's making a local prayer call instead of long-distance.

My prayer all ready to go

The women's side. Yes, it was smaller than the men's side. Yes, it was quieter than the men's side.
I had folded my prayer wrong--everyone else had theirs coiled, so I quickly changed that.

My prayed is the v-shaped one at the bottom of the thick crack
On the way out, we passed the largest Mezuzah in the world. Mezuzah's are little (well, usually little) Deuteronomy scrolls that are posted outside the door to each living quarter--everyone house or hotel room has one. You're supposed to kiss it on the way in and out.

Our last stop for the day was the old Temple stairway, where people would have walked up to the Temple. This is the site for Mark 9. What's interesting is that the stairs aren't even--they are all different sizes on the way up. This is so a person has to walk up them slowly--they can't just rush and run up. You need to think about what you are doing, climbing the stairs to approach the Temple.

It was beginning to rain quite heavily at this point, so we turned back. The last thing we glimpsed of was a corner of the wall. This is where the shofar would have been blown on high holidays, or as a call to war, or for other important events.

Back to the hotel! Tonight was American-Style dinner night at the hotel, to which I say bleh. It was sort of disgusting.

Anyway. I leave tomorrow! I'm looking forward to going home, and I really do feel that I've seen almost everything that I wanted to on this trip. We're doing a few last minute things tomorrow morning before coming back in the afternoon, so I'll probably have an early post tomorrow.

Until then!