DAY 1 Jerusalem Tour:
We pulled in very early around 9am on the first day and there were tours scheduled for that day and the next. Some how by the grace of God I had duty the day we pulled out so I was able to sign up for two of the tours!! Best idea everrr! The first day I signed up for Jerusalem and the second day I signed up for the Dead Sea Tour, the other option was Nazareth which a lot of people signed up for, but I decided to go with the Dead Sea Tour which no one was really picking.
I want them to hold tours the day we pull in every time because that’s the fastest liberty call I have ever seen! We had to be ready to go by 11am since the city was almost 2 hours away so we pulled in and after the port brief they pretty much called liberty for all of the people going on the tour. The new Suppo and I walked down to the buses together and we hopped on, and sat in the front of course because that’s where all the cool kids sit. We were off in no time.
Right before we left I had walked down to the mess decks and exchanged all of my Euro’s from Cyprus in for Sheckles, which it was 1:3 for american to sheckles so I got quite a few for the price. I couldn’t remember the name of the currency so for most of the day I called them shakalaka’s. ha.
Our first stop was the Hebrew University. It’s up on this hill overlooking the city and it was a sight to behold. In Israel you are required to be in the military for 3 years before you choose a profession and take up studies, so most of the students are older and going for very intense things such as the medical field or scientists. Interestingly for everyone, no matter who attends, the tuition each semester comes out to be about 2,000.00 american dollars. You have to get accepted first though, but you can get a medical degree for just that price!
There is a granite wall at the top that has a list of names for everyone who has donated more than a million dollars to the school. Steven Spielberg’s name is on there. We took pictures and then headed down to the Church of all Nations that had been built around the rock Jesus sat and pondered on the night right before the roman’s came and arrested him to be crucified. There is an orchard of Olive trees right inside (which I had recognized from Cyprus Greece) and they are almost 1,000 years old. The church was very simple and right when you walk in if you look up you can see the seal of the President of the United States for their contributions to its preservation. I sat down on one of the benches and said a quiet prayer and then I went up to the rock and knelt down and placed my palm on it. On the walls there are mosaics that have pictures which include when the roman’s came, Judas kissing Jesus which was the sign that he was in fact the messiah, and him being taken away.
After leaving the church we headed for the inner walls of Jerusalem. We entered at Jafar gate, which is right next to the wailing wall. I had one of my buttons on my collared shirt unbuttoned and when we walked in a woman made me button it immediately, which I did. The wailing wall is the closest point to the holy of all holy churches in Jerusalem. Only the purest priest is allowed inside and he is only allowed entrance one day out of the year and that is on the day of Atonement. The jews come here and they normally pray for forgiveness and the return of the Messiah. There were two sections, a very large section for the men, and a very small cramped section for the women. I am appalled by their views on women here in the middle east and I don’t take to it kindly. I walked up to the wall and there are many little notes folded up and placed in the bricks. There were women crying and some sitting on chairs reading the koran. When we walked back towards the open area we walked facing the wall so as not to disrespect it.
The jewish men wear big black suits with top hats and some of them have coat tails. They do not shave because cutting themselves is sacrilegious so they have long beards and two big curls on the side of their heads where side burns would be. These are very long and extend down. When they pray they rock up and down at the wall with their hands in the prayer position. I don’t know everything about their culture so I’m not sure why they do that. Jerusalem is divided into four parts. The Christians, jews, aristocrats, and the muslims. We had to stay very close together while moving in the bazar because it is very easy to become lost. There are many shops and it reminded me of the movies where there are chase scenes in different countries and people are on motorcycles and they roar down narrow paths and upset baskets of fruit. That is kind of what the bazar is like. I stayed very close to Q, one of the officer’s because it was very easy to stray and I didn’t want to have my name turned into the Israeli embassy for getting lost.
We walked through a maze of hallways/streets and stopped here and there for information from our tour guide. We finally stopped for dinner and we were all hot and starving. It was buffet style and SOO good. They had this cabbage dish which was amazing and the pita bread with humus was to die for. I ate so much food there, then we headed to the Church of holy Septors which is where Jesus was crucified and the grave where he was buried was also there. This church was a sight to see, I will have to send you pictures. It is run by monks and there were quite a lot of people there. We had stopped and shopped at a store and people who had bought rosary’s or medallions were getting them blessed by the monks and it is a place full of prayers, you can just feel it. I wandered around for a while on my own and found a whole bunch of different passage ways which pretty much all led to altar’s. It was very neat. I couldn’t believe that I was there.
Afterwards we had to exit the city because all tours must be out by sunset according to the policy put in place by the embassy so no one is attacked. We walked out into the night and the city was lit up for a lights festival, it was magical. We were picked up by our bus and taken back home. I then turned around and went out for drinks and Skype. I was able to talk to my family again, which was awesome! We decided to stretch it till the last possible second, me and two other officers, and we were sitting at a bar just thinking about how we needed to get back, when in walked 3 of the officer’s on shore patrol. They were like guys its 1:30, you need to start heading back now (liberty expired at 2am). We agreed and told them we were going to walk to the bus stop. Luckily they had taken the Captain’s car to pick him up and drop him off and they still had it so we got a ride back with them, no effort! We got back right on time and we didn’t even have to walk or wait, awesome! I then went to bed because I had to be up for the Dead Sea Tour very early the next day.
DAY 2 DEAD SEA TOUR:
There were only 16 people signed up for this tour and so that was already awesome from the beginning. It had cost 95 dollars which was
almost double what the other tours cost and so many people didn’t want to go. The captain signed up with STO EMO CSO, a pilot, and myself. We were the only officers, everyone else was enlisted. The dead sea was almost 3 hours away so we left early and we were in a little bus as opposed to the coach bus that I had ridden to Jerusalem in.
Our first stop was Masada which none of us really knew about. It was a summer home King Harrod had built on the top of a plateau mountain in the desert. It was also a last stand for a group of jewish people against the roman’s years later (we watched a video before we went to the top). We took cable cars to the top of it and that was a sight to see, looking out over the desert from the top. It was sweltering hot and we all had about 3 bottles of water to stay hydrated. My first thought when we got to the top was WOW, this would be the best place to play capture the flag ever. I mentioned that to the captain and he agreed. We walked through all of the nooks and crannies of the fortress, which took a few hours but it was very interesting. King Harrod had built an aqueduct system at the top to supply water to the fortress from the rain run off. It was pretty ingenious. My dad would love to have studied this aqueduct system.
When we were finished at the top we took the cable cars back to the bottom (Thank God! Because I saw people walking both ways and it probably would take an hour in the hot sun to get there.) We were picked up in our little bus and taken to a spa area, to a bunch of resorts, to swim in the dead sea! We ate another buffet style lunch with some very good curry dishes and humus and then we changed into our bathing suits to go swimming… in the dead sea! (I can’t help but add that every time!) We had the whole beach to ourselves and an outside bar, it couldn’t have been better weather.
There is nothing living in the dead sea at all, it is so salty that if you look at bushes growing near the dead sea they have salt particles all over them. Also when you walk out into the sea there are no rocks, just big salt balls. It is so relaxing. You need no effort at all to just lay there. Its harder to try to put your body up right then just lay back and float. Of course then we were all getting beers at the outside bar, and they all bought only one. Well I bought two, one for each hand, because who shouldn’t? It takes absolutely no effort to float in the dead sea, holding two beers is easy peezy. The water was very hot and you absolutely could not go under. It burns right through your eye lids. I had some cuts on my feet and they burned the whole time, but now they are healed! My small pox scab also fell off only after an hour of being in the dead sea. It dries all your cuts right out!
We were all laying there enjoying how amazing it really was when things got taken to the next level. 3 Israeli fighter jets came and did a low slow fly by right above us!! It was quite exciting. There were 2 F15′s and 1 F16 (thanks to the captain and the pilot who identified them) and we were all laughing and yelling. EMO then splashed around too much and got water in my left eye and O did it burn… A lot. It is pretty horrible. I had to keep my eye squeezed shut for about 5 minutes while it burned. Ugh. I also got a taste of the water and it was pretty disgusting. Ickk.
By this time we had to get out and get showers and head home. We stopped at 3 rest stops along the way to buy “drinks” which we drank on the bus and of course we had to keep stopping to use the bathroom… The after effects. The bathrooms in Isreal are co-ed by the way! When it was still day we were driving and we saw about 6 camels running across the road, we made our driver pull over immediately to get pictures. There was a guy on a mule herding them.
When we got back to the ship, I kind of went and bought some diamonds. Israel is the diamond capital of the world, and they had diamond vendors come on board to sell different diamonds to us. I know I probably shouldn’t have but when in Rome… Plus, the captain told me to go for it. He had spent over $6,000 on 3 diamonds for his wife and daughter. I can treat this as a good investment right? H, my roommate bought a $5,000 dollar diamond as an investment, so she could sell it for more and open a Roth IRA. I bought 2 diamonds for earings… That’s all. I’m pretty excited about it!
Okay well this letter is long enough and I must go so I can study for my OOD board, which is tomorrow!