Monday, June 6, 2011

The Holy Land: Tel Aviv, Lod, & Caesarea (Day 1, 29 May 2011)

We returned home late last night from the biggest trip in our little family's history.  Not only was it the longest trip we've taken since having Peter, but it was also the most monumental and unforgettable.  We just spent eight very unforgettable days in the Holy Land.  We were joined by 12 others from our Catholic parish on base.

We started our pligrimage bright and early last Sunday morning.  Actually, it was not yet bright and very, very early when we loaded up our suitcases and our groggy little boy into the car at 1:40 am.  Leaving for trips before the sun rises always adds to the excitement and uniqueness of the day.  It also makes my head hurt a bit.  As I carried my sleepy boy to the car, I whispered "Do you want to go on an airplane today, Peter?"  He responded with an enthusiastic "ha, ha!" and never cried once.  We are blessed with such an adventurous, go-with-the-flow little guy!

We joined our group and took a shuttle bus to the airport.  We flew from Adana to Istanbul, then Istanbul to Tel Aviv.  We arrived in Israel at 9:30 am, went through the passport check and customs, and met up with our tour guide to start our day of sightseeing. 

Our first stop:  the city of Lod.  Saint George, patron saint of soldiers, lived in Lod, Israel.  We visited a beautiful church in Lod, and climbed down a staircase into a small, peaceful, dimly lit room where his tomb was.  It was amazing to think that the remains of THE St. George were in the small sarcophagus in front of us.  Icons and statues of St. George are very popular and found prevalently around the world...most of him slaying a dragon on horseback (reminiscent of a legend about the famous Roman soldier, saint, and martyr).  Standing in front of him was incredible.  We invoked his intercession for the success and morality of the United States Military.

Inside of the Church of Saint George

Saint George's Tomb

We then journeyed to the city of Jaffa where St. Peter ministered to the local populous as mentioned in the Book of Acts.  We visited a beautiful Spanish Baroque church built over the ruins of an ancient crusader structure.  The view of Tel Aviv from the church was breathtaking.

What a view!

We stopped for lunch at a kibbutz.  A kibbutz (Hebrew for "communal settlement") is a rural community of people based on joint ownership of property and agriculture.  People who live on a kibbutz live entirely on the food they produce.  Many modern day Kibbutz's have opened up restaraunts to showcase their fresh, homegrown food to tourists.  Most of our lunches on the trip were at kibbutz's.  Their food was very fresh and tasty!

Next, we drove to Caesarea Martima, an ancient city built by Herod the Great and used by Pontius Pilate as his permanent residence.  Famous Christian writers Eusebius and Origin were from this city.  While there, we explored the ruins of a Roman theater (where Pontius Pilate watched plays), a Crusader fortress (built by St. Louis), and an ancient aqueduct.  We also examined the ruins of Herod the Great's seaside palace, stood in a dusty hippodrome where chariot races took place, and meditated on the faith of St. Paul as we stood in the remains of the courtyard where he was sentenced to be judged in Rome for "inciting a riot." 

Caesarea Martima

Peter was in good spirits as he sported his new sunglasses and hat to stay cool in the warm sun.  We soaked in the beautiful view of the ancient city on the shores of the intensely blue Mediterranean Sea.  The cool breeze from the sea was so refreshing!  I had to restrain myself from diving into the cool, blue sea after a long, hot day of travel. 

Peter keeping cool in an ancient Roman theater.
 This theater is still used today.
(In the background you can see the modern part. 
The ancient part is what Peter is checking out.)

After exploring Caesarea, we drove to our hotel in Tel Aviv.  Everyone was in a daze as we unloaded our luggage, collected our room keys, and trudged to our rooms.  It had been a long, exhausting day of travel.  We got cleaned up, rested a bit, and met up again in a hotel conference room for Mass.  Mass completely rejuvenated me!  It was so good to refocus on Christ, the reason for our pilgrimage.  After Mass, we grabbed some dinner at the hotel and eagerly headed to bed.  We all slept well after such a long day!

*This blog was written by Sarah and Dan.  Dan's memory and historical knowedge is much more extensive than mine.  Plus, he's a very gifted writer.  I'm happy to co-write our Holy Land blogs with my talented husband!

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