Breakfast was always at 7am. The dining room opened earlier but most of us met at 7 to share a meal before boarding the bus at 8am. Our driver, David (Jewish pronunciation Dav id - short A) was an expert at maneuvering that 40 passenger bus through the narrow streets and sharp turns. I drove a bus years ago and I can tell you I wouldn't want his job. He was good at it.
We headed East out of town that morning on our way to Nazareth. It was just over 18 miles from Tiberias and the countryside was beautiful. Israel had experienced some rain and snow in the week before we arrived and everything was unusually green. Our guide, Yair, said that several times over the course of our tour.
Everywhere you go in Israel today you see mosques and minarets protruding above the rooftops. The route to Nazareth was no exception.
This woman was begging on the corner where we turned off the main highway to go into Nazareth.
On the outskirts of town were communities that looked fairly prosperous. The green hills made it look that much better.
When we stopped and got out of the bus, just behind us was the largest Baptist church and school in the entire country of Israel. Of course we had to take pictures of it.
And just down the street from the church was a store that surprised me. I thought pork was outlawed in Israel because of Jewish customs but there are a few stores that cater to Christians and secularists that do sell pork products. Dr. Tolar explained that there are three pork processing plants in Israel that he knows of but that pork production is quite limited. I should have stopped in for some bacon....
We walked a couple of blocks down the narrow street until we got to the center of town. The courtyard was built around what in Biblical times was the city well. It's mostly dry now but the shelter over it is still in place.
A couple of blocks off that courtyard was our first destination - the Basilica of the Annunciation. The Roman Catholic church is built over the cave where it is believed the angel Gabriel appeared to a teenage virgin Mary and told her she was going to bear a child who would be the Son of God and where Mary voiced her consent: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
Carved in the facade over the triple doorway is the Bible verse “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)
As with all of the other Catholic churches throughout Israel, the interior was beautiful and ornate.
And of course, the cave (grotto) where it is believed Mary received the visit from Gabriel.
The Greek Orthodox Church believes that Mary was drawing water from a public well in another place in town and they erected a church on that site. It was within walking distance from the first one.
This is the area where the well was supposed to have been.
From the church we went to a place called "Nazareth Village," where citizens reenact Nazareth as it would have been in Biblical days. We toured the various exhibits, saw a wine press and a replica of an ancient synagogue.
We then had a typical meal from the period that included lentil soup, hummus, salad and pitas. It was good enough that I would have gladly been a vegetarian - at least until we returned to the hotel!
From Nazareth Village we drove up to the top of a mountain that overlooked the Valley of Armageddon. Our next stop would be on the opposite side of that valley at a ruin called Bet She'an.
Bet She'an is an ancient city that originated around the 5th millenia BC. It lies at the junction of the Jordan River and Jezreel Valleys and was an essential stop for travelers between Egypt and Babylonia. It changed hands over the centuries, ruled for a time by Egypt then, during Biblical days, by the Romans. The Romans built a sprawling city within the walls.
Much like ISIS today, when ancient cities and/or nations were conquered by another army the cities and temples were destroyed and new one erected on top of them. Such is the case in Jerusalem and such was the case with Bet She'an. The ruins have provided artifacts and archeaological evidence of civilizations from the Late Neolithic or Early Chalcolithic periods (sixth to fifth millennia BC.) Some of the ruins are still in very good shape today.
(Heating chamber under public baths)
We spent a couple of hours wandering around Bet She'an before boarding the bus once again for the Jordan River and the popular baptism site in the river below the Sea of Galilee. Dr. Marr was going to baptize anyone who so desired in the rather cold river. Arden and I had both had colds recently and I was somewhat symptomatic with another one so we passed on the ritual. We have both been baptized already and while having it done in the Jordan River would have been a unique experience, it wasn't the same location where it is believed Jesus himself was baptized. It is believed Jesus was baptized in the river North of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum.
Sixteen members of our group elected to be baptized and each waded out into the river to where Dr. Marr stood, waist deep, braving the cold water. The rest of us waited with towels and took pictures. The river really was beautiful there.
Once everyone had been immersed and Dr. Marr's legs were numb, he came out of the water to a cup of hot coffee. I mentioned that he hadn't immersed himself in that cold water. He said he thought about it briefly but decided against it. I couldn't blame him. I put my hand in the water. It was cold.
After exiting through the gift shop (like I said - there's always a gift shop) we boarded the bus once again and headed back to our hotel; the close of another day.
(The Gai Beach Hotel)