Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked - Part 11 - Heading Home

Waving good-bye to Dr. Marr and the gang we headed out on the bus one last time. I forgot that Dr. Tolar was staying behind as well. He was meeting another group on Friday and was going to give them the same wonderful information that he'd given us. He was going to be in Israel for about a month.

We got on the freeway and headed West into the darkness. We were tired, happy and sad all at the same time. Even though we were anxious to get home we (Arden and I, anyway) didn't want to leave. Arden wanted to go back up to Tiberias and spend a few more days on the Sea of Galilee. That would have been OK with me - although I liked Ceasarea and the Mediterranean better.

As we drove out of Jerusalem we headed down in altitude from 2500 feet to 135 feet above sea level. Our ears let us know more than the road did.

The bus was fairly quiet. Yair spoke to us a couple of times but mostly he sat in his seat in the front and had a quiet conversation with David, in Hebrew. Others in the group talked quietly or napped. Arden and I had gotten up at 5am to make sure most of our things were packed and ready. I'm sure some others did the same thing. The ride to the airport was only about 45 minutes and it passed by quickly.

As we neared the airport Yair stood up and grabbed the microphone. I can't remember his exact words but he told us he truly enjoyed getting to know us and thanked us for the opportunity to show us his country and to tell us about his people. If it was an act he was good. But I don't think it was. Yair very much enjoys what he does and enjoys sharing his knowledge of Israeli history with others. We couldn't have asked for a better guide and we told him so. (He and David also received sizable monetary gifts from the group as well.)

The travel agency had a representative waiting for us to assist with our check-in. We got off the bus and said our good-byes to David. We took our bags and followed Yair and the agency representative inside. Once inside, Yair said his good-byes to each of us, giving each of us a hug. We were going to miss him.

We got our ticket/boarding passes from the kiosk before we got in line to go the counters to check our luggage. Before we could check our luggage we had to be screened by a security officer. Israeli security profiles people. They look at your tickets and passports and ask  you a couple of questions - judging your reaction and mannerism as much as your answers. They are very serious about airline security. They're very serious about security everywhere.

After our screening we got into another line to check our bags. We got to the counter, gave our tickets and passports to the agent, and I put our bags on the scale. My bag, which contained some of Arden's clothes as well as mine, was 9 pounds over the 50 pound weight limit. The ticket agent said I could either transfer some items to Arden's bag or pay $200 for the extra weight. I had to think about that one.... transfer some stuff or pay an extra $200...  Gee, what should I do?

I took the two bags, laid them on the floor and opened them. I took several pairs of my jeans, which were the heaviest clothing items I had, and stuffed them into Arden's bag. I also had a couple of plastic bags that contained rocks that I had collected from various sites on the tour. I moved them as well. When I closed the bags and put them back on the scale both were under 50 pounds. Whew.

By the time we finished with that everyone else in our group had already moved toward the gate. The agency rep (I cannot remember her name) bid us farewell (she had waited until we were finished) and we headed down the corridor to passport control. Between the ticket kiosk and passport control we had showed our passports 4 times. (To get your ticket you put your passport in the machine to be scanned.)

Next we had to pass through airport security before going to our gate. So we got in line again. We had to show our tickets and passports again before going through the metal detector. I emptied my pockets, put both laptops in separate bins, put my carry-on bag on the conveyor to be scanned, and stepped through the metal detector, which promptly went off. I realized I still had my belt on and stepped back through. I removed my belt and put it in Arden's bin and stepped through the metal detector again. Again it sounded.

The security personnel were beginning to look at me seriously. I patted myself down and discovered the problem. In the leg pocket of my carpenter style jeans was my cell phone. I took it out, stepped back through the metal detector, put it in Arden's bin with my belt, and stepped through again. This time I cleared it. I was glad because one of the security guys looked like he really wanted to search me. And the people behind Arden weren't liking me much by then.

I apologized to them for my absent mindedness and began collecting our belongings. When Arden got through the detector we headed for the gate which was, of course, the last one at the very end of a mile long corridor. There were four moving sidewalks between us and the gate. Three of them actually worked. I was carrying both carry-on bags to balance the load. They were both heavy. On the three moving sidewalks I put the bags on the railings so they rode along with me. I was really sorry when I got to the one that wasn't working.

Finally we got to our gate. Most of the others in our group were there. We had passed a few of them in the various shops along the way and saw at least one of them going into the restroom. Many of them were napping. It was almost 9:00pm by then and our plane was scheduled to depart at 10:40. But wait - great news! Our plane was now delayed until 11:30!

I needed something small to eat because I had to take some medication. And I needed water. So I went over the a little store across from the gate and purchased a bag of really good cashews and a bottle of water for about six bucks. It was an airport, after all.

Around 10:00 Arden wanted to go for a walk. Another couple from our group, whom we were sitting near, said they would watch our bags for us. We took advantage of it and walked all the way back to the security checkpoint then turned around. Without the two carry-on bags it wasn't all that bad. We looked in a couple of shops and took our time. We would, after all, be on a plane for over 12 hours in just a little while.

Eventually we wandered back to the gate and sat back down. We had about 20 minutes before we were supposed to board the plane. At least the departure time hadn't been delayed again. At 11:00 they finally announced that we were boarding. We got in line again and again showed our tickets and passports to get on the plane. We got lucky on that flight. We were in the last seats on the left side of the plane. There were only two seats instead of three so Arden got the window and I was on the aisle. The bathrooms and the galley were behind us. It wasn't bad at all.

I think we actually took off just before midnight.

I didn't want to watch a movie so i got out my book, American Sniper, and read it until it was time to eat. They served our first meal about an hour into the flight, when we reached our cruising altitude.

Arden had salmon croquettes and I had chicken and pasta - the same chicken and pasta I had on the way over. Salmon isn't my favorite and the chicken was really good.

After dinner I read some more and then tried to sleep. It didn't work out well. Even though I had been awake since 5am and it was now after 2am the next day, I didn't sleep well - perhaps 2 hours. I can never sleep on a plane. I told Arden that next time we were going to fly first class. The seats folded down into beds. Sure, it'll cost us several hundred dollars but hey - maybe I'll be able to sleep!

I turned on a movie, although I can't remember what it was now. I watched it and then got my book out again. We had now been flying for about six hours. How about that? Halfway to Newark!

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I read, watched another movie, dozed a little, read some more...  then, about two hours away from our destination they served us breakfast of eggs, fruit and coffee. The coffee was good.

Finally we were approaching Newark. We were supposed to land, originally, at 4:30am (EST) and our connecting flight was at 6:30. That was going to be difficult now since we didn't touch down until 6:10am Newark time. And we had to get our luggage and go through customs, then re-check our luggage. Fortunately for us (I guess) Newark had been blessed with a snow storm and our flight was cancelled. How great is that?

So while we didn't have to worry about missing our connection anymore, we did have to worry about getting home. We stood in line going through customs for about 20 minutes. Then we went to the United counter to arrange transportation to DFW. Fortunately for us they had a flight with enough seats - at 1:30 in the afternoon! There was a 10:30 flight that a few people were lucky enough to catch. Since Arden and I were in the very back of the 777 it took us a while to get out. We weren't so lucky. But at least we had a flight home.

It was 8am. We now had been traveling for 14 hours and we still had a 5-1/2 hour layover and a 3-1/2 hour flight to get to DFW. Then we had to pick up Arden's dog from where she was boarded before we went home.

We hung out at the gate for a while then, about 9:30, we decided to go get something to eat. Once again some of our kind group members said they would keep an eye on our carry-on bags and we wandered down the corridor to find a restaurant. We found a really nice, albeit small, place that was open for breakfast. But we didn't want breakfast. We had breakfast at 4am on the plane. Now we wanted real food. We asked the waiter if we could have lunch instead. He went to the kitchen and checked and returned with an affirmative answer. We ordered cheeseburgers and fries - good ol' American food. I had them put bacon on mine. No salad, no fish, no hummus. All beef cheeseburgers.

They were $20 apiece. Airport prices. But man, they were great!

Finally it was time to board our plane for Texas. Because of our last minute bookings on the flight, our group was scattered around the plane. Arden and I sat four rows apart, each in the middle seat. Other couples in our group were seated the same way. In fact, everyone from our group that I saw was in a middle seat. It wasn't worth asking someone if they'd trade. Who would trade an aisle seat or window seat for a middle seat in a sardine can?

But we were on our way. And everyone got on the plane - even those in our group who had been placed on standby. I think God had decided we'd had enough by then and helped us get home.

The flight to DFW was uneventful except after flying for 12 hours on the other flight it was just irritating. I just wanted to get it over with. We landed at 4:10pm.

We got our luggage fairly quickly and said our goodbyes to the group. Many of them had been unknown to us before the trip. But now we were friends and fellow pilgrims.

We were supposed to be in Fort Worth to pick up Allie before 5pm. There was no way we were going to make it. Arden called the vet, gave them a credit card payment over the phone, then called her brother and asked him if he would pick up Allie for us. He agreed. So we had to go to his house on the way home to get her dog. But that was OK.

The weather forecast said a winter storm was coming and was supposed to begin around 7pm. We picked up Allie, stopped and got Mexican take out (another food type you don't find in Israel) and made it home right at 7. We had our dinner, watched some news for a little while, and went to bed exhausted. Jet lag wasn't a problem that night. We left Israel at 3pm CST on March 3rd and arrived home at 7pm on March 4th. 28 hours of travel time. Sleep came quickly.

We awoke the next morning to this:

I was ready to return to Jerusalem....

I noticed as I wrote Part 10 that I didn't take any more pictures once the actual tour ended in Israel. No airport pictures, no group photos. Not sure why except that on the way back everyone was tired and we were missing some members.

When we arrived home, and for days afterward, both Arden and I said we'd not go back to Israel. We've been there and seen it and that was enough. Funny thing - as I began writing about the trip and Arden began reading about it, as I looked at the pictures we took to determine which ones would be included in each post, we both changed our minds. We definitely want to go back. The next time we will go with a group but will probably stay a few extra days on our own. That way we can go other places or return to those places where we felt we just didn't have enough time. Tiberias and the other towns on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee will be one of those areas. And I want to spend a day or two in Tel Aviv and a few more in Ceasarea.

If you haven't figured it out from my blog posts, I have no other way to explain how deeply being in Israel affected me. I feel profoundly different when it comes to my Christian faith and I have a new love and appreciation for Israel and her people.

I said in Part 1 that from the time we decided we were actually going to go the song "I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked" began to run through my head on a regular basis. Since our return it has been daily. Most of the time, when a son stays in my head for hours it's irritating. This one has been there for a month now and it doesn't bother me at all. If you're unfamiliar with it I've posted the lyrics below. Those lyrics now have personal meaning for me and I have pictures in my head (as well as my camera) of each place.

I walked today where Jesus walked,
In days of long ago.
I wandered down each path He knew,
With reverent step and slow.

Those little lanes, they have not changed,
A sweet peace fills the air.
I walked today where Jesus walked,
And felt His presence there.

My pathway led through Bethlehem,
Ah! mem'ries ever sweet
The little hills of Galilee,
That knew His childish feet.

The Mount of Olives, hallowed scenes,
That Jesus knew before
I saw the mighty Jordan roll,
As in the days of yore.

I knelt today where Jesus knelt,
Where all alone he prayed.
The Garden of Gethsemane,
My heart felt unafraid.

I picked my heavy burden up,
And with Him at my side,
I climbed the Hill of Calvary,
I climbed the Hill of Calvary,
I climbed the Hill of Calvary,
Where on the Cross He died!

I walked today where Jesus walked,
And felt Him close to me.

I would say that this concluded my series on my trip to Israel but I have one more post to compose. I completely forgot about it until today because I had no pictures to remind me. The last thing we did on Tuesday afternoon before returning to the hotel was go to Yad Vashem, the museum of holocaust history in Jerusalem. We were not allowed to take pictures inside it so I left my camera on the bus. I will include pictures with my narrative but they will be from the museum website rather than taken by me. 

If you are interested in holocaust history this was the place to be. I have been to Dachau and have seen and felt first hand what evil lived therein. Yad Vashem is the only other place I've been that gave me that same emotional feeling. That's why I can't exclude it.


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