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Journey to Jerusalem

A little late in publishing but finally got it done. From my time on MSC Lirica during the summer of 2013, Haifa, Israel was one of our stops.

I have never been particularly religious in the typical sense. From my travels I have encountered faiths from all around the world from Catholic, to Buddhism to Muslim, to almost everything in between. Don’t get me wrong, I went through a period when I was a Sunday school teacher in High School and part of the local youth group. But after numerous adventures and cultures I prefer keeping my faith as something for myself. I love discussing religion and discovering the nuances of all the different beliefs, in fact at youth group I would always end up being that one in the middle of the table questioning. I grew up hearing the tales of the old and new testament, and well we were told they were true, for the most part they always felt like just that.. tales.

Entering Jerusalem

That is why it was no surprise that I chose to float in the Dead Sea, a long time dream of mine, before visiting one of the most sacred cities in the world for many cultures. Luckily working on a cruise ship allows you these sorts of choices and eventually I got round to getting the chance to exploring this ancient place. The early morning started at 5am for us with a 2 hour drive from the ship and I woke from my nap just as the bus entered the outskirts. Even before my driver began explaining things I just had this overwhelming, bordering on emotional, sense of awe wash over me. It seemed so obvious, when before it was kind of sketchy, that the stories I had grown up with were, in fact, based in truth and most likely completely true, in some form or another.

Dome of the Rock

Our first stop was a view of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was truly breathtaking.
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The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is considered “the most contested piece of real estate on earth.” (Wikipedia)

Temple Mount with Dome of the Rock in background and cemetery in foreground.

Temple Mount with Dome of the Rock in background and cemetery in foreground.

Western Wall

Known to many as the Wailing Wall because of the thousands who come to pray and leave messages, the Western Wall is something to see and experience.

The sign before going through security at the entrance to the wall

The sign before going through security at the entrance to the wall

We arrived on the first day of Rosh Hashanah*, the Jewish New Year. This meant that there was no traffic anywhere and thousands of pilgrims at the wall. It also meant that no photos were allowed, which was a bummer as the people who came to pray that day were amazingly beautiful. Not in the typical “magazine cover” sense of the word, but in the cultural aspect, and the looks of absolute love and religious fervor that the wall seemed to instill in people. I had a very itchy finger wanting to take pics.

3 generations heading to pray

3 generations heading to pray

But I opted to obey the rules…and show respect. I wish I could paint you a picture of how amazing this was. I wish I could have sat and just watched the flow of humanity, often seeing it in it’s rawest and truest form.

The wall has a male and female side. On the male side it looked like a full party rave going on. Men were chanting and dancing and singing, the intensity increasing with every word uttered. They were lifting chairs above their heads and you could see the religious fire burning in their eyes.

On the women’s side it was the complete opposite. The women were silent except for some whispered prayers, there was a quiet dignity about them. All ages, all races and most likely many religions. Some were just sitting and reading the bible, sharing their beliefs with younger generations.

I walked down found a scrap of paper and wrote down my prayer, my hopes, my dreams…found a space between the rocks and, resting my head on the ancient stones, placed it well pouring all my positive energy into what I had written.

Via Dolorosa

Heading further into the Old City of Jerusalem, we left the Western Wall behind us and continued towards Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Sorrows”.
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This is the route Jesus was made to walk while carrying the cross to his crucifixion. The winding cobbled street passes from the Antonio Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, around 600m/2000ft. Today it passes by bakeries, fruit sellers and souvenir shops. I wonder if the people living here today pause to think about the significance of this path or if it lost to them as so many other world marvels are lost to the people ho see them everyday.
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The route has changed over the years, but this one has been established since the 18th century, along the way tehre are nine Stations of the Cross. Places where it is believed Jesus stopped, or fell or met certain figures, such as Mary.
At the fifth station, known as the Chapel of Simon of Cyrene, it is believed Simon carried the cross for a ways. Jesus is said to have lent on the wall and left a bloody hand print, this spot is now much revered and has worn down over centuries of being touched by followers and tourists alike.
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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

As we meandered along this sacred route, I was struck by the people, the scents, the sounds. Life seemed so real, so alive, you never knew what you might find around the next corner.

such a table with a wide array of multi-colored candies

such a table with a wide array of multi-colored candies

Soon, we neared what is considered the most sacred site of pilgrimage for Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It lies on what is believed to be the hallowed site of Golgotha (The Hill of Calvary), where Jesus was crucified and is also said to contain where he was buried and later resurrected. The church now plays host to the headquarters of most Christian sects, ironically enough, due to much…disagreement… between these sects, it is a Muslim family who holds the key to the ancient door. They have been responsible for it for over 1,300yrs.
(Article in the SFGate telling the tale).

Out in the courtyard you see pilgrims from all walks of life, all sects of Christian religions, all nationalities.

Greek Orthodox Ladies taking a break

Greek Orthodox Ladies taking a break


Young African man playing his drum

Young African man playing his drum


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I was in awe of this place, and you could feel the love and hope virtually emanating from the hundreds of people, most of whom had probably planned and dreamed of this day.
Just inside is the Stone of Anointing, a large slab (added in the 18th) century on the spot where Joseph of Aramathea was said to have prepared the body of Jesus for burial. Pilgrims take an item of clothing or jewelry and rub it on the stone as they pray, hoping to bring blessings to the item.
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Our group purchased candles from the Church store and lit them saying a prayer. Some get over enthusiastic and think the bigger the bundle the more likely their prayer will be heard, this is when a priest comes in and has to douse them so that a fire doesn’t break out.
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We spent some time exploring the church and I think photos are the best way for you to get a feel for it:

Light streams in the the arches creating an ethereal beauty

Light streams in the the arches creating an ethereal beauty


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The lamps that hang over the stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

The lamps that hang over the stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

The Immovable Ladder

Another interesting anecdote about the Church is what has been named the Immovable Ladder. This is a cedar ladder (the wood is believed to originally have been from Lebanon) that was placed below a window on the outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during some construction. However, during a disagreement between the Christian sects, an understanding was made that no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of all six orders. Since getting consent of ALL the orders is near impossible, the ladder was not allowed to be removed and has therefore become Immovable and a symbol. It was first mentioned in 1757 and is replaced when the present ladder disintegrates over time.
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After a truly fascinating and emotional trip for the entire group our bugle toting guide, blew a few notes (not enough to bring the walls crashing down)
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and we headed out of the Old City with many other pilgrims in search of new inspiration and understanding of the world around us.
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Personal Note – it truly saddens me that a place that has more history in one stone than most places in the world and that should bring the world together due to it’s significance and meaning seems to be constantly at war. The people I met in Israel were inspiring and welcoming and I hope everyone visits and learns to put old prejudice aside.

*Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה‎, literally “head [of] the year”), is the Jewish New Year although the real name for this Feast of the Lord is called Yom Teruah (Hebrew: יום תרועה‎, literally “day [of] shouting/raising a noise”) or the Feast of Trumpets according to the correct biblical calendar of the 1st and 2nd temple period, not Rosh Hashanah. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) which usually occur in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. Rosh Hashanah is a two-day celebration, which begins on the first day of Tishrei. The day is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of mankind’s role in God’s world. Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn) and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey to evoke a “sweet new year”.
(From Wikipedia)

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Cruise, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Beach Life in Haifa, Israel

There is so much history and culture to explore in Israel that I was a little cynical when my friends said we should go to the beach in Haifa. I mean, I have grown up in South Africa, seen beaches in Australia, NZ and Thailand… I know what a good beach is like! Don’t I????

Following Friends

Sometimes you just got to go with the flow when the friends want to chill out at the beach. And sure, after working non-stop for months at a time, the beach is a perfect place to relax. So after doing my duty of assisting with guest disembarkation at 5.30am till 7am, then catching a quick 2 hr nap, I rolled out of bed to meet the crew. It was planned to be out of the ship by 10am…. 11.30am had us finally on the bus (and it was the girls waiting for the boys may I add).

The bus ride to the Carmel Beach in Haifa, Israel, seemed to take ages and for a time I thought we had over shot the stop. Which my friends delighted in teasing me about and had me completely believing we really had. But, eventually we got to the bus depo the final stop and the stop for the beach. You have to go through security everywhere in Israel, the beach included. Rather safe than sorry and it all became second nature eventually. After a quick bag scan we wondered through the mall picking up some amazing baked goods and some cola (possibly to go with the rum we might have had stashed somewhere).

The Beach!

Upon exiting the mall we trotted across the parking lot and onto the boardwalk lined with cafes, and restaurants, public toilets, beach showers and umbrellas. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I was wrong and this beach was incredible!!

Glorious Beach as far as the eye can see

Glorious Beach as far as the eye can see

The beach just continued as far as the eye could see on both side. The sand was a fabulous fine grain (which even after 4 or 5 washes I still discover in my swimsuit), the water a stunning blue and relaxing comfortable temperature… just perfect.

Good Friends

What followed were hours of fun in the sun with amazing friends…

My first friend on the ship, Biljana.

My first friend on the ship, Biljana.

Fun and Games

Fun and Games

Building Sand Castles

Building Sand Castles

Friends "admiring" said sand castle

Friends “admiring” said sand castle

mmmm wondered what happened

mmmm wondered what happened

making sand mermaids

making sand mermaids

The Price

After close to 5 hours of living up life and enjoying one of the most amazing beaches ever… it was time for us to wander on home to the ship, I had to work that evening. I could feel that I was a little sunburnt, but I had no idea just how much until after the shower….

As our T&D Manager (training and development) remarked: “You look like boiled lobster”
this was rather amusing until he followed up with
“which means you are ready to eat!!”
Trapped in a small elevator after that statement, it turned to disturbingly funny, well he was Italian…

Lessons Learnt

– Trust your mates when they say there is a great beach

– The Israeli sun is hot, hotter than other places, always wear sunscreen and if you do, be sure to reapply generously!!

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel

 

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Bucket List #7 – Float in Dead Sea

Legendary Locations

Visiting legendary places like Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat, Lake Titicaca or seeing things like Blue Footed Boobies, whale shark while diving, or even riding an ostrich have all been on my Bucket List. All things I never thought I would have the chance to see or do. Now I not only get to cross off another item but also have the chance to do it again later in the season… Float in the Dead Sea! With the bonus of mud coverage!!!

How I got Here

Well it started with a boy, who got me wanting to work on a cruise ship. That part is history now, but the adventures have only just started. 4months into my first contract with MSC on the good ship Lirica, I find myself in Haifa, Israel every 11 days. On the 3rd cruise of the summer season my chance to escort an excursion to the Dead Sea arrived. Who would have thunk!

The Trip

The journey involved waking up at 5.30am, discovering breakfast only opened at 6am and stealing some croissants from the Officers Mess! Leading my group onto a bus (after intense security searches by Israelian Authorities) for the 3hr journey to Masada (the home of King Herod). Being brought up in a scouting family, I was prepared with my small travel pillow, water, sunscreen, snacks for the trip the whole sha-bang.

Slept through most of the drive there, waking up for the brief coffee/toilet stop. As it was shabat, the Jewish Holy day, nothing was open, so it was really just a toilet stop. Finally we made it to our first destination, the location of the palace of one of the Bible’s super villians, King Herod!

The entrance to Masada before taking the cable car to the top.

The entrance to Masada before taking the cable car to the top.

Masada

When Herod learned that a new king was to be born who would destroy him, he did 2 things. He ordered all baby boys to be killed and he built a palace out in the middle of the desert on the top of a high mesa (flat topped mountain) with enough supplies to last 10yrs.

Many years later the same fortress would be used by 1000 Jews refusing to give in to Roman rule. The defied the invading forces for 3yrs, surviving on food they grew themselves. However, the Romans used slaves to build an earth ramp to the top of the Mesa, an impressive feat if you saw just how high it is. When the Jews realised that they were soon to be over run they gathered and made a suicide pact. The Romans found no man, woman or child alive, making it the largest suicide pact in the history of man and really annoyed the Romans.

You now access the Mesa top by a very windy steep pathway or by cable car. When you reach the top the views are breathtaking, showing you views of the desert all the way to the shore of the Dead Sea.

Cable Car

Cable Car

The ruins also contain the oldest mosaic in the world.
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After an hour or so of history and exploring the ruins we headed back to the cable car and down to the buffet for lunch. Food was included and was delicious, a variety of Israelian delicacies including hummus and pita bread, also the most delicious baked potatoes ever. We also had the chance peruse the gift shop and pick up some Ahava products which are made from the minerals in the Dead Sea and are highly prized. I found the sale section and discovered a bag that contained shower gel, hand lotion and a big tub of lotion for 100 schekels, about 22 euros. Not a bad deal.

Dead Sea Bound

Finally it was time for the highlight of the day, we all boarded the bus and headed for the Dead Sea. Just 30min down the road was the Dead Sea Resort. We were all given locker keys and a towel and then let loose down the path to get changed and get to floating. I joined up with a family from Germany and we headed down to the beach. Thank heavens for the previous guests who had highly recommended bringing some flipflops for the walk to the beach as the path was desert rock and super heated from the sun. The temperature was 38C in the shade and just getting hotter.

Of course it is very important to follow the rules when swimming in the Dead Sea… otherwise it could be… well hazardous to your health.
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A Floatin’ We Shall Go

Finally it was time, we removed flip flops, took 2 steps…. then jumped around holding our burning tootsies till we got the flip flops back on. Bloody hell the ground was hot, almost as if the desert floor had been super heated by the sun… actually that would be quite accurate. We decided to use flip flops to water line, eventually just taking them in with us.

“Swimming” in the Dead Sea is one of the most unique experiences ever. The water has such a high salinity that it has an almost greasy feel to it (making flip flop wearing a dangerous affair over rocky ground). No matter how hard you try you can not force yourself down, instead you hover in suspension and just kind of…bounce! If you flip over on your belly doing the doggy paddle is the easiest thing in the world, and the safest as it minimizes splashing.

I had the mandatory picture reading the MSC tour magazine, the hardest part was not the floating but trying not to flip over by mistake. It’s kind of like sitting on a large ball and trying to balance.
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Then it was off to the mud. Large tubs of it brought in for us to smother ourselves. I have now enjoyed mud in this manner in South Africa, South Korea and Israel.
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Time to Head Back

After reveling in mud and floating around it was time to gather the troops and load the bus. I had a slight headache and knew all my precautions to prevent heat exhaustion might have been in vain. But feeling better after a cool drink we all enjoyed the bliss of bus air conditioning. Feeling tired I tried to take a nap. After about 2hrs, with less than 30min to go, the headache, combined with the gentle roll of the bus up and down, up and down, proved too much. And my glorious lunch, that was so good going down, was not as good coming back up. On the good side, if there is one, at least i had a plastic bag and am apparently a silent vomiter… But the old saying of “Better out than in” was true and I felt much better as we rolled into the parking lot 15min later.

A truly unforgettable experience and allowing me to write this sentence:

Bucket List #7 – Float in Dead Sea – CHECK!!!

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Cruise, Italy

 

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