Monday, 30 November 2015

Floating in the Dead Sea

What fun we have had today at the Dead Sea. It is 450 metres below sea level and has the saltiest water in the world. The salty water makes things really buoyant, fortunately including us - check out the photos.
When we got to the water's edge the sand was covered in a solid salt crust and we walked over it and into the sea.
Darren's mum can't swim and had never floated before so the first few attempts were a bit traumatic, but she soon got the hang of it.
Obviously, the only thing there is to do is to pose for silly photos, mess around and just have a good laugh.
We took it one step further and covered ourselves in salty mud, then stood around waiting for it to set. We tried to wash it all off, but got the hotel towels really dirty, so I hope they don't mind too much.
The tour guide said that the mud would make us all look 20 years younger so keep an eye on the blog over the next few days to see if you still recognise us.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Jerusalem by camel

Darren's mum mentioned that she had always wanted to ride on a camel - and today her wish came true.
A price was negotiated, and then the camel's owner gave her a helping hand onto it's back. I was a bit worried that she might tipple forward and over the camel's head, but no, in a very smooth manoeuvre she was on and up. Even more impressive was that she didn't even hold on and got a cheer from the whole tour group!!
It was a very gentle and friendly camel, and the only slight worry came when the owner said that it would be an extra 50 shekels for the camel to sit back down again.
Also, the view of the old city of Jerusalem behind the camel was incredible.
As expected we had another action packed day that included a visit to the Garden of Gethsemene, the church next to it (pic 4), the church of John the Baptist and the extremely moving Holocaust Museum.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Jesus's headquarters

Our guide took us to what he referred to as 'Jesus's headquarters' this morning - pic 1. He said that of course it didn't have fax machines back in the day, but it was where Jesus spent a lot of time. It was his friend Peter's house and the tiny fisherman's shack was right beside the Sea of Galilee.
Archaeologists have identified the exact location and a very futurist looking church has been built directly over it. The foundations of the stone house is in the centre with the church appearing to float above it. I went inside the church and it is very beautiful, but the main feature is a glass floor that highlights Jesus's workplace below.
Next door to the church is a synagogue that dates back to the 4th century - pic 2.
We then set off on a whistle-stop tour of a crusader castle, brilliant hillside gardens and shrine in Haifa and finally Roman remains at Caesarea.
It was named after Julius Caesar and was a Roman city that boasted all of the usual amenities. We saw the restored amphitheatre that was okay, but the arena where they used to hold chariot races was fantastic. It is right along the sea front in the centre of photo number five and the seats along the whole length of it are amazingly well preserved.
We walked along the racetrack and I could really imagine the horses thundering around the track, as the crowd cheered them along on one side and the sea crashed against the rocks on the other.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Golan Heights and the Syrian border

Today we drove up into the Golan Heights in Israel, and right to the top of Mount Bental.
It is no exaggeration to say that the whole bus was shocked once we got out and started walking. We set off along a path with menacing metal monsters on either side, and then we got to a bunker.
It had concrete trenches and was manned by UN peacekeepers. There was fantastic views and we looked straight out across Syria in one direction and Lebanon in the other.
What was even more amazing was that we were allowed to walk along trenches, chat to the Peacekeeper in the front lookout tower (he was Canadian by the way), and generally just wander around the whole site.
There was a signpost that pointed the way to Damascus and Baghdad and metal cutouts of soldiers all around us.
Our guide said that when he was here three weeks ago they could hear gunfire from Syria, but that it is much quieter at the moment.
On a more peaceful note, we also found time to visit the location of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, (pic 4), the source of the river Jordan where I bought a little bottle and filled it full of holy water, and the place where the miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fishes took place.
Finally, we took a sunset river cruise on the Sea of Galilee where we all joined in and danced to a traditional Israeli song.
Seriously, if you want an action packed holiday, come to Israel!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Action packed day in the Holy Land

We found ourselves in a desert almost as soon as we drove out of Jerusalem this morning.
About half an hour later we arrived at the small town of Jericho, of Bible fame. We are struggling a bit due to our lack of biblical knowledge, but Jericho is where the walls fell down after someone walked around them seven times.
Unfortunately, nowadays there is no sign of the wall and there is little else to see.
We then visited a brilliant Roman city called Beit Shean that was destroyed by an earthquake almost 1,400 years ago.
Afterwards we headed to Nazareth which was where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she was going to have a baby. In the olden days it was a little village, but it is a lot bigger now, and if you look at pic 4 there is a large church in the middle of the photo. That church is built over Mary's home and is actually very beautiful inside.
The next stop was my favourite of the day - watching pilgrims being baptised in the river Jordan. It was very busy today and a large group of over excited and very loud Nigerian ladies were in the same area as a group of quiet South Koreans.
The ladies finished first and were dancing around and singing at the tops of their voices as the Koreans were dipped backwards into the river. They each emerged choking and coughing, but they were soon smiling and got a round of applause from their fellow pilgrims.
We stood above them on a purpose built viewing platform and it was really entertaining, although nothing like I had expected.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The sights of Jerusalem

This morning our bus dropped us at the walls just outside of Jerusalem and our guide took us to see some of the most famous sights.
The holy city is the centre of three faiths, Jewish, Christian and Islam, and it is a constant balancing act to try to keep the peace in the city.
It is very heavily guarded and there are many soldiers on duty within the old city.
We started our visit at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, and which is the most sacred place for the Jewish community. This is because it is very near to where a temple used to stand that was built by Solomon, although this was destroyed many hundreds of years ago.
We walked very near to the Wall and watched the faithful stand and touch it - picture 2.
We then walked to a staircase as built on top of the Wall is the Dome of the Rock. For Muslims this is their holy place and we were able to walk around it, but access to the area is very restricted for non believers - pic 3.
We then walked out of one exit beside the Dome and were almost straight on to the Via Dolorosa.
This is the route that Jesus took as He carried the cross on His way to be crucified. We walked the same route and saw the various places that He stopped along the way.
The whole walk was uphill and eventually we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a very large church and is built over the hill, called Calvary, where the crucifixion took place. Picture 4 shows the rock where He died, and a crucifixion scene above it.
On the other side of the same church is the tomb of Jesus - picture 5. We had to queue for a while here as there was more tourists about, but we stepped inside the tomb and right up to His shrine.
So today we have been immersed in religion in the most holy city in the world.

Bethlehem

We had a very hectic day today, and to try to make a bit of sense of it, I am starting with our afternoon outing.
We drove to 'the little town of Bethlehem' which is only a few kilometres outside of Jerusalem, however, it is in the Palestinian controlled area.
We had to drive through a checkpoint and between the huge walls that surround the area - pics 1 and 2. The town is very built up and not at all as I had imagined. I took a few photos on the way and was pleased later to notice a star over the town!
We then arrived at Manger Square which is opposite the Church of the Nativity. There was lots of building work going on, and a tall Christmas tree was standing in one corner just waiting to be decorated.
Our guide took us into the Church and to some steps behind the alter. These led down to the actual place where it is said that Jesus was born - picture 4.
We touched the centre of the star and then a few feet away we saw the place where the manger lay that Jesus slept in while the three wise men visited.
A church was built over the area in the 4th century and replaced in 529. It has stood there ever since, although it has been expanded in all different directions and is claimed to be the oldest church in the world.
Our guide told us that a few years ago people would queue for hours, but nowadays there are very few tourists and we almost had no wait at all.
Although I am not religious, it was very moving and a privilege to visit here.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Getting cosy in Jerusalem

We had a 3am start this morning as we had a plane to catch. We flew from Luton to Jerusalem together with Darren's mum.
We were met at the airport this afternoon by a friendly guy,  who passed us on to a taxi driver, who dropped us at our hotel. So far so good.
We marched up to the reception desk and then found out that we were all sharing the same room! Not only was it going to be very cosy, but the third bed was a tiny kiddie size - pic 2.
We are in Israel for a week to see all of the sights and it should be action packed and really exciting.
We are also supposed to be with a tour group although we haven't found them yet, hopefully we will later.

Breaking news - the hotel have just managed to find another room for Darren's mum, phew!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

History on Reigate Hill

We arrived back in England late on Friday night and have spent a lovely weekend in Surrey with Margs and Dave.
Today was bright and cold and we went on the Military History Walk at Reigate Hill.
It was very interesting, and among other things we learned the very sad story of an American aeroplane that crashed into the the Hill in 1945.
It was returning to base after a bombing raid in Germany and it did not clear the top of the Hill, destroying a think bank of trees and killing all nine of the crew. The trees have not been replaced and there is a gap that is the same width as the wingspan of the plane - a Flying Fortress.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Last night in Spain

Tonight was our last night in Spain for a while, so we went to a beach bar to watch the sunset. It was lovely, but then the mosquitoes and buzzy things came out to bite and dive bomb my wine, so we headed indoors.
We are flying to England tomorrow so we need to pack up the van, do a good spring clean and drive down to Malaga.
Over the last week we have done lots of little things that didn't merit a blog on their own but deserve an honourable mention.
Firstly cats. Lots and lots of them, playing by the seashore and around the campsite. Many people feed them and they look as if they have a nice life.
Storks. Another favourite bird along with the flamingos and penguins. They live on the church roof and zoom around the town.
Ancient civilisations. We cycled to where the Phoeniceans settled in the 8th century BC. Not a great deal of it left now. Towers. Lots of fortifications all along the coast. Just everywhere.
Beaches. Always my favourite outing. This one is just around the corner from the harbour where we watched the sunset. It has the remains of a tower and huge fortifications that are being slowly swept away by the sea.
El Puerto de Santa Maria - great place, we shall return.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Flamingo hunt

I had been told that there was flamingos living in the Bay of Cadiz, and until today we had not managed to track them down. I thought that they must be miles away from civilisation, but today we cycled to the salt pans and nature reserve just behind the local Decathlon store.
In the distance we could see buildings, roads, wind farms and factories, but as soon as we started cycling down the little track we entered a different world. It was so quiet and peaceful with a winding river, fields full of salty water that was gradually being evaporated by the sun and little paths between the fields.
We cycled near to a giant salt mountain and apart from a couple of fishermen by the river we didn't see any other people all afternoon.
Paddling and swimming in the water were avocets, herons,  seagulls and best of all, the flamingos, although they kept their distance from us.
It was a beautiful and almost enchanting place and I was so pleased that we found it.
Unfortunately, Daz got a bit too close to a group of about ten and suddenly they all started running, took off and then landed in a field about half a mile away.
He shouldn't have disturbed them, but they were only in the air for a minute and it was a very dramatic sight.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Challenging Classical Concert

Last night we went out for a bit of culture, as the Orchestra of Cordoba were on at the local concert hall.
We had no idea what they were going to play, but thought that we might recognise a tune or two. As expected the smartly dressed musicians tuned up and then the conductor picked up his baton. From then on it started to get a bit weird.
The first piece was a total surprise as there was no tune or beat, but just random sounds, notes and silences. We were surprised and thought that it must be a one off modern piece.
It wasn't though and as the evening progressed the sounds got even more unusual, and the two percussion musicians at the back were particularly busy. They ran up and down randomly banging drums, shaking maracas, hitting some dangling pipes, and other non identifiable items that made strangulated noises. At the end of one piece, almost unbelievably, they fired a gun straight upwards towards the ceiling.
We sat through about 15 tuneless, beatless, pieces, but as time went on it got quite amusing and strangely entertaining. We were almost getting the hang of it, although you could never imagine singing along to any of it in the shower.
Eventually the lights came on and we thought it must be over, but no, the conductor invited a group of people from the audience onto the stage. Everyone started clapping and it turns out that they had written the music that we had been listening to!
We were then getting ready to leave when we found out that we had only reached the interval. The second half was much more traditional and I surprised myself by being disappointed.
Afterwards we met up with a couple from our campsite and went out to a tapas bar. People were still ordering dinners at midnight and we didn't get home until about 1.30am.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Relaxing days

We arrived at El Puerto de Santa Maria a week ago and we were planning on staying for two or three days. Well a week has now gone by, we are still here and not planning on leaving for a while.
It is a lovely relaxing place with so much to do. It helps a lot that the weather is grand and should stay that way for the next week.
The oranges are ripening around the town and the local caf├ęs make great juice. They are also really cheap and we have found a favourite where we often stop for breakfast. The first time that I ordered in Spanish it was a bit stressful with a lot of arm waving, but the owner recognises us now and just smiles at us and starts making it. Obviously, we can't try anything different.
Daz went for a run along the promenade this morning and we have just had a little paddle in the sea. It was pretty cold and I made a lot of noise getting in as deep as my ankles. Meanwhile, three mahogany tanned pensioners from our campsite waded straight in. By the time I turned round they were quietly floating around on their backs, looking like shiny bikini clad turtles.
It's a skill that I don't think I will ever acquire.