A very nice weekend
I had no idea what to expect – having heard the stories about security surrounding Israeli airports. More security than normal, but nothing anyone cannot get through (assuming they should get through!). In Frankfurt – I went through a metal detector and was “wanded” two more times – sort of like clearing security three times. But that was about it – getting out of the airport was pretty normal.
Anyway, when I arrived, some local Oracle people and the local Oracle User Group representatives took me out for a nice dinner. They kept talking about this “winter thing” that was happening outside – but for me, it was a nice change. It was in the mid 60’s (about 17 c) – perfect weather for February if you ask me. The told me what the plan for the weekend was (sort of, they were hazy on the details) and it sounded busy. Starting at 8am the next morning (I could have used a little more sleep…) we were off.
I can say that if you want to see a lot in a short time, and really understand what you are seeing – what you should see – and have someone greasing the skids to make it all happen, a local tour guide is recommended. I had an excellent one, Ika Schweitzer:
He was great and if you want a comprehensive look around Jerusalem and surrounding areas, I would recommend him. We started the day with a camel ride of all things. Fairly strange beast to get on. Rock forward, rock backwards, rock forwards and you are up and then the walking itself kicks in. Not sure I’d want to go very far on such a ride – but it was different.
Then we were off to Ein Gedi, a spa on the Dead Sea for a splash in the mud and the dead sea itself. It is reported to be the lowest elevation on the planet with a human breathable atmosphere. Try as hard as you want, you will not sink in this water, in fact – if you are not careful, you an easily end up face first in the water just trying. Normally the ocean is something like 3% salt – this is somewhere over 30% - and it shows. This is not sand on the beach – it is salt. By the way – the guy in the foreground of that picture is covered in Dead Sea mud – reputedly really good for your skin. Yes, I got covered (no pictures). Very strange feeling.
After Ein Gedi, we were off to Masada. For me, this was the high point of day one. I like old buildings/ruins and that is what this was. We took the cable car up (you can walk, takes about 45-60 minutes that way) and once up there – you get a view like none other. Looking down you can see many of the Roman fortifications that surrounded the location 2,000 years ago. As the Ika said as we got down to the North Palace end – imagine you are the King here with your buddies, having a couple of beers in the evening, here is your view. It went for 360 degrees – looking at everything. Here is a view from the upper level of the North palace looking down. They built the Palace into the side of a cliff. Only way to get there – walk up the mountain, across the top, and down the side. Looked pretty defensible to me. In fact, it took some three years of siege to penetrate in the end.
Next, we went off road for a bit in the desert. Saw something I don’t get to see every day - a mother camel out with her baby. The desert was full of cool looking structures – much of the formations you can look at here are made of salt. There is one thing they have a lot of there by the Dead Sea is salt, tons of it – more than tons of it. Huge amounts of it does not even being to describe how much salt there is.
We closed up day one with a trip to Mount Sodom. The views once again were outstanding. The silence there was profound. So quiet, you could hear the silence. It did not seem like anything else living was around for a long distance. With all of the salt in the ground – there was simply nothing growing there anywhere. Ika said there might be some scorpions and snakes at night, but that is about it – there is nothing to eat.
Day two we set out to explore the city of Jerusalem. Behind us is the city itself and we covered much of the old city in a good 8 hour period:
We started on Mount Olive – overlooking a Jewish cemetery. We hit many of the places in the old town – too numerous to list. I learned a lot of history this day – some I knew, much I did not (having a good tour guide, that was a good idea – I would have had no idea where to go). After a while, we got to do some shopping. I picked up a couple of things, including a shelf item for myself from the year 333 AD which I thought was pretty cool looking. We closed the day with a walk to the West Wall (the Wailing Wall). Before we got down there, the sun was just beginning to set:
I thought the effect was very nice in that shot. The sun was in a perfect spot. We closed out the day with a walk down to the West Wall – where people stick their wishes into the spaces between the blocks in the wall. After that – we got a guided tour of the entire 500 meters of the West Wall – under ground. It is a very long story and if you ever get there yourself – I highly recommend taking the West Wall underground tour. It is not every day you can walk on a 2,000 year old road in the condition this one was. As one of the guys with me said as he touched the wall underground “this, this is history”. It was – that is the thing I take away from Jerusalem more than anything “that, that is history”.
I’d like to come back someday and do it again.