Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Israel - Ein Gedi, Masada, Dead Sea and Tel Aviv | TRAVEL

Our third and final full day in Israel had arrived far too quickly. We woke up bright and early, ready for our last day trip!
Today we headed into the Judean Desert towards our first stop; Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. Ein Gedi is located on the shore of the Dead Sea and due to its rocky mountainous terrain it is a magnificent hiking location. Follow the trails up the mountain stopping at the waterfalls and natural springs along the way. It is a beautiful oasis on the cliffs of the desert. The reserve is also a home many animals such as; ibex, rock hyrax, leopards, hyena, wolves, foxes, porcupine, bats, snakes, lizards and many species of birds. Ein Gedi is also mentioned many times in the bible:
'And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi'
1 Samuel 23:29
'My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of En Gedi.'
Song of Songs 1:14

Only a short drive away was the next stop on the itinerary; Masada. Masada is a massive mountainous rock about 450 metres above sea level and contains the ancient ruins of the palace of King Herod. The ruins trace back to 31 and 37 BC. A cable car will take you up to the top of the cliff or alternatively you can walk. As someone who is not a fan of heights (or cable cars) - walking seemed like the best option - but unfortunately we didn't have enough time, so I had no choice but to conquer my fears! The views from the top are breathtakingly stunning, with the Dead Sea in front and the Judean Desert completely surrounding you - the journey was worth it. Spend some time walking through the ruins and absorbing the surroundings, imagining what it must have been like all those years ago.

After lunch we carried on with the tour to our final destination for the day and one of the most exciting; The Dead Sea, where we stopped at a private beach for a swim. The Dead Sea borders Jordan, Israel and Palestine and is the lowest point on earth at 430 metres below sea level. It is one of the saltiest waters in the world which means animals or plants cannot live within, hence the name.
Due to the high content of salt, visitors come from all over the world to float in the Dead Sea and encounter such a unique experience. It was the most amazing and natural experiences we have ever done! The Dead Sea is also known for its cosmetics that is made with the salt and many minerals found within the sea. We spent a few hours swimming and relaxing on the beach before heading back to Tel Aviv for our last and final day in Israel.

We woke up the next morning, packed our bags and left the hotel in preparation for our last half day in Tel Aviv. Our plan for the day was to relax and walk through Tel Aviv, stopping at the Carmel Markets for lunch and proceeding towards the beach for a chilled out day. We enjoyed some much needed sun and before jumping back on the plane for London.

One lesson I have learnt about the trip to Israel is to not live my life in fear; instead take any opportunity (pray first!) and live my life to the fullest. I am so glad I never let fear stop me from experiencing what I have. Israel was one of the most life changing and incredible trips I have ever been on for the many reasons I have written about during the past 3 blog posts. I hope that you are inspired to visit Israel or travel to any new destination.

Thank you for reading!

God Bless,
Amber x

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Israel - Nazareth and Galilee | TRAVEL

Just as day one had began, day two started bright and early overlooking the ocean from our hotel. Today our tour was the Biblical Highlights of Galilee! Once we had picked up everyone in the small bus we began the drive towards our first stop; Nazareth. Nazareth is know in the bible as the town where Jesus grew up. Just as Jerusalem is, Nazareth is situated on top of hill about 320 metres above sea level. While here we visited 2 churches; The Church of Annunciation and St Joseph's Church. The Church of Annunciation is the largest Catholic church in the Middle East and is believed to be built on the home of Mary. It is also where the angel Gabriel appeared to her to tell her she was going to have a baby named Jesus - The Son of God. The front door of the church shows and tells of major events in Jesus' life. Inside it is simple but decorated with beautiful stained glass windows. Downstairs is the grotto of the Annunciation. This contains the remains of a house believed to be Marys childhood home. The walls of the upper level are covered with mosaics of many different countries depictions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. There are also mosaics in the courtyard of the church. St Joseph's Church is only a short walk away and is significantly smaller but just as admirable.

We continued on to our next stop of the day; Capharnaum. Capharnaum was a fishing village along the Sea of Galilee. It is known for being the hometown of Simon Peter, one of Jesus' Disciples. It is also the town in the bible where Jesus performed a great deal of miracles that are noted throughout the gospels, such as, healing the man with an unclean spirit (Luke 4:31-36), healing a servant close to death (Luke 7:1-10), healing Peter's mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15) where Jesus calmed the winds and sea after the disciples were scared (Matthew 8:23-26), where Jesus heals a paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8) and where Jesus raised from the dead a young girl (Matthew 9:18-26). Today it is full of ruins from the ancient civilisation. Excavation has revealed a late 4th century AD synagogue which they have named the 'White Synagogue" after the white stones used for its construction. It is among one of the oldest synagogues in the world. The building consists of four parts: the praying hall, the western patio, a southern balustrade and a small room at the northwest of the building. The praying hall faces towards Jerusalem which is how it had been identified as a synagogue. One of the ruins in Capharnaum is concluded to be the house of Peter. Two memorial churches have been built over the ruins as preservation. 

Before lunch we stopped in Tabgha, another seaside village along the Sea of Galilee. Tabgha once again is another significant town in the bible; it is the site where Jesus fed the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44). Other biblical events that took place in Tabgha include; the calling of the first apostles (Mark 1:16-20), the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1), healing of the leper (Matthew 8:1-4) Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:45-52), meeting with Peter and his companions after the resurrection (John 21:1), the last appearance of Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20).

After we had our lunch we hit the road again for our final stop of the day; Yardenjt - The Jordan River.
'At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He was Heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from Heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased."' Mark 1:9-11.
The Jordan River is a site visited by Christians all over the world, many of whom wish to be baptized in the same location as Jesus. The river runs from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea in Palestine and is the longest river in Israel. With such a spiritual significance I feel so lucky to have been able to visit such a beautiful location.

We arrived back into Tel Aviv early so we decided to have dinner on the beach watching the sunset. A peaceful end to a wonderful day.

To be continued...

Thank you for reading!

God Bless,
Amber x

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Israel - Jerusalem and Bethlehem | TRAVEL

Israel is a country I have always had an interest to visit but due to the conflict in and surrounding Israel I never imagined I would ever go. When the opportunity arose for us to go, Aaron and I took the chance of a lifetime, jumped on the plane and went! I could tell this trip was going to be a special one.

We arrived into Tel Aviv late Sunday evening and went straight to bed in preparation of our first excursion to Jerusalem and Bethlehem the following day.

We woke up bright and early and went for breakfast in the hotel. We sat outside in the morning sun overlooking the sunrise on the beach. Today was going to be a great day! We hopped on the bus bright and early in pursuit of Jerusalem.

Along with many towns and cities in Israel, Jerusalem is situated on a hill with outstanding views of the valleys beneath. I was amazed at how the new and old architecture came together in such a way that gave the city an incredible atmosphere.

Our first stop for the day was the Old City which is surrounded by a 5000 year old wall within the modern city of Jerusalem. The Old City is divided into Quarters; the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Our tour began in the Christian Quarter where we followed the Via Dolorosa up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via Dolorosa is believed to be the path in which Jesus walked with the cross on his way to his crucifixion. There are 9 stations within the Via Dolorosa where a significant event happened during Jesus' walk to Calvary. The remaining 5 are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is arguably one of the holiest sites in the Christian faith and is believed to be built upon Golgotha/Calvary; the location in which Jesus was crucified. The Church itself is not an extravagant work of art like others such as St Paul's Cathedral in London or the La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but it holds a spiritual significance which can be seen and felt throughout the building. Just inside the entrance is the Stone of Anointing which many believe is the rock where Jesus' body was washed and prepared for burial. To the right of the entrance is a stairway that leads to Calvary. This has been transformed into an Alter that is covered in gold and extravagantly decorated. Jesus' Tomb is also within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and is located in and to the left, but unfortunately we did not have time to queue for an hour or so to see that. Walking through the Church I felt a such a rush of emotions that could not be explained and the presence of God was so apparent. It is an experience I will never forget.

We continued through the aromatic markets of the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter.

The Western Wall is the only wall still remaining from the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple and is the holiest site in which Jews are permitted to pray. The Second Temple replaced Solomon's Temple after it was destroyed and is said to have housed the 10 Commandments. What an amazing place to be able to experience another culture and religion in such a holy setting.

After lunch we continued our day onto Bethlehem. As many know in the Christian faith (or from Christmas carols), Bethlehem is the town where Jesus was born. Today it is a Palestinian city located in the West Bank of Palestine with the population consisting of 90% Arabic and 10% Christian. Our little time in Bethlehem was spent going through the biblical sites such as the Nativity Church and the Church of St Catherine. As the Nativity Church was under construction we couldn't see much due to the scaffolding so we didn't stay long. That meant our last stop of the day was Sanctae Catharinae (translated to the Church of St Catherine) which is a more modern church with a beautiful courtyard to the front of the building. The perfect way to end such a special and memorable first day in Israel.

To be continued...

Thank you for reading!

God Bless,
Amber x

All photos taken with an iPhone 6s.
Dress: Boohoo

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