Bethlehem from a Tourist’s Eye
In my previous article, about my travels in Israel, I described my adventures touring through the Holy Land through Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan where Jesus was baptized. I started out from a hotel on the Mediterranean beach of Tel Aviv as the travel tour guide company and I was so pleased with the tour, the guide’s knowledge, the price and the overall experience, that I booked myself another day tour the next week but this time the day tour was to Jerusalem and Bethlehem
How it Starts
Once again after picking up other tourists at their hotels, the Mercedes coach accelerated down the highway towards Jerusalem.
Not long after passing the Ben Gurion Airport that serves Tel Aviv and Jerusalem we came upon the dusty foothills of Jerusalem’s suburbs.
As we climbed the pitched slope we surveyed the clusters of neighborhoods built on the sides of the dusky hills until we reached the crest of the mountain where the vision of the great city of Jerusalem itself made for a breathtaking view.
The tour guide began narrating the history of Jerusalem as we reached the top of the Mount of Olives and gazed down through the massive and ancient Jewish cemetery to see the Garden of Gethsemane.
After stopping for a few minutes for picture taking, the bus drove down the Mount of Olives, across the valley around the old city to the top of the mountain on the opposite side of the ancient walled Old Jerusalem where we parked to take more pictures, this time of the magnificent vista of the golden glistening Temple Mount shining from the sun.
We then descended down to Old Jerusalem and parked for about six hours so that we could enter the walls of the city.
Entering into the old city was a fascinating experience.
After negotiating the cobbled street through the narrow entrance way of the city we came upon the Wailing Wall replete with Jewish pilgrims praying.
After visiting the Wailing Wall, we entered the Arab quarter through the bazaar then made our way through the Christian quarter following the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa, the sometimes disputed route that Jesus tracked while carrying the cross to his crucifixion at the top of the hill.
The Old City
One of the interesting things about the old city is that it has been destroyed so many times that the actual Roman City where Jesus walked is about twenty feet below much of the current city.
There are areas that have been excavated that expose the Roman streets of the time but the top of Golgotha Hill which is now the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is generally accepted as the authentic site where Jesus died as years and years of local citizens and church scholars have identified it as the accurate biblical location of the crucifixion.
We entered the church to see where Jesus was crucified and laid to rest in the tomb, now managed by the Greek Orthodox Church which shares space with the Roman Catholic Church. The inside of the church is ornate with several chapels housing the various Christian relics that are sacred to World Christianity including the Stone of Unction located on the floor in front of the entrance to the church. This is the stone on which the body of Jesus rested after his death.
In the Greek Orthodox section, you can see the rough part of the hill where the cross was mounted and down from that is the tomb of Jesus from where the resurrection took place. The Bein Harim tour guide explained everything as we walked through the church.
After several hours of examining the holy place, the guide took us to a local restaurant to eat.
it is better to either bring your own lunch or bargain with street vendors than to blindly order from the menu of the designated restaurant because the tour company and restaurant are connected and there is a high likelihood that overcharging will occur.
After the tour of the Church and lunch, we walked back through the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter and back through the Muslim quarter of which everyone was warned about holding on to their purses and wallets. After returning to the bus we were ready to move on to Bethlehem through the new part of Jerusalem.