Apr 24, 2015

Home Sweet Home

I forgot to ask my family to bring a Tim Horton's coffee with them when they come to pick me up from the airport, but it doesn't matter. Twenty-one hours after I woke up in Amman, I am back in Canada!

Purgatory

This theological concept arose in the mediaeval wester‎n church, being neither heaven nor hell, but a place where the souls of the deceased stay until they have suffered in recompense for their sins, at which point they are released to their heavenly reward. (I've probably misrepresented the doctrine, but oh well.)

My loathing of airports increases whenever I am forced to spend time in one. ‎Well  actually, the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman was "not bad," but as a transit hub, Heathrow Airport in the UK has nothing but gross commercialism to "recommend" it. The good news is that I will be able to breathe fresh air again in another ten hours, but between now and then I will be simply trying to refrain from screaming. I have not been confined indoors for this length of time in... well, I don't know. Years? Decades?

If I ever leave North America again, I owe it to myself to investigate the option of shipping out on a "tramp steamer" -- if those still exist. Or, I suppose, pay triple or quadruple the price for a direct flight.

Long Day Ahead...

I don't even want to think about the day ahead of me, but I now have my boarding pass and have cleared all the security checks at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. Now it's a matter of sitting and waiting and sitting and more sitting. It's hard to believe my odyssey is almost over, but I'm ready to head home.

Apr 22, 2015

April 20 - 21: Nazareth

"I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head"
- The Band

‎I don't know why, but I am no longer as weather-resistant as I used to be. Each time I've been caught out in a cold rain without my poncho, I've wound up with a deep chest cough and sinus congestion that lasts several weeks. It happened in Turin, Durrës, Sofia, and most recently in Jerusalem.  I've kept myself going with "cold and flu" tablets, but even with the chemical crutch, my endurance isn't what it normally is.

It was slightly past 11:00 Sunday night when I finally found the hostel I was looking for in Nazareth's Old City. My afternoon trip to the beach had been very therapeutic, but then I spent the next five hours scrambling from bus to bus. It shouldn't have taken the toll on me that it did, but I'd been awake since 6:00 ‎and I was feeling moderately wretched. As it happens, the Fauzi Azar Inn locks the gate and shuts down their reception at 9:00. I'd been standing in the narrow lane beside the door for about five minutes wondering what to do next when two guests came back from a late dinner and let me in. Fortunately for me, the desk clerk hadn't left yet, so I was able to get a bed for the night.

I could have simply gone to one of a dozen other hostels and guesthouses in the area, but I'd really wanted to stay at this hostel.‎ At Juha's Guesthouse in Jisr ez-Zarqa, they had spoken very highly of Fauzi Azar, and it is also the top pick for Nazareth in the Lonely Planet guide. (I know I haven't written about the days of walking between Megadim and Jerusalem, but I will! The problem I keep running into now that I've stopped walking is interesting people and good conversations are filling my evenings. It's a good problem to have!)

In spite of my exhaustion, I was up early Monday morning, well before my alarm. After breakfast, I took advantage of the free city tour offered by the hostel. Before it began, we were given a brief history of the house and how the hostel came to be. It's named for the patriarch of a Nazarene family who lived from 1903 - 1980. Fauzi Azar was the second (or third, I forget) generation to live In the house. The family had originally come to Nazareth from Lebanon and had prospered enough to build a mansion in the 19th century with cedar trim from the Taurus Mountains (in Turkey) and marble flooring from Marmara (likewise). The clay roof tiles were all imported from Marseilles, while the twenty foot high ceilings had been handpainted by an artist from Lebanon.  In the latter part of the 20th century, the Old City went into a decline. Many of the homeowners left, leaving their homes locked up -- but still vulnerable to the criminal element which gradually moved in as the area ceased to function as a neighbourhood. When their mother passed away in 1989, the children had all married and moved away from the Old City, and none of them were interested in bringing their families to what was now a very bad part of town. The mansion sat vacant for the next fifteen years, used as a garbage dump, urinal, and party spot by drug dealers. Then in 2004, a young Israeli backpacking enthusiast approached the family with a proposition. After strong initial opposition, a lease was drawn up. No money was involved -- his "payment" was to clean up the property and ‎keep the name of Fauzi Azar alive through the hostel. For more about the background of the hostel, Maoz wrote an article that was published in The Jerusalem Post in april 2008, republished here:
‎www.fauziazarinn.com/fauzi-azar-story/

2015 is the tenth year of operation for the hostel, but with the dramatic drop in tourism throughout Israel in the wake of last summer's war against Gaza, it came very close to shutting down.

The tour itself was not what I'd expected. All the other city walking tours I‎'ve gone on have given a general overview and introduction to the place, which I have used as a basis for my solo explorations.   The hostel intends to be more than just a bed to sleep in -- the staff are all involved in volunteer community projects, some of which they have started. Because of this deliberate focus on the community, all of the stops on the tour were within a five minute walk of the hostel, and at almost all of them, the group was introduced to a local business owner who talked a bit about their specialty. It's a good idea, but after the fifth or sixth stop it became too much for me. As part of a group, there was no opportunity for direct one-on-one conversation with the people we were being shown -- and yes, it began to feel a little like a staged show. I knew I wouldn't be supporting these people by buying from them since a) I'm basically broke now and b) I have a very VERY small pack. At a neighbourhood coffee shop / gameroom (backgammon and dominoes), our guide announced that if anyone wanted, the remaining stops were optional. I was (still) tired from the long day I'd had Sunday and feeling worn down by the incessant flow of chatter by our "perky" American guide. I excused myself and enjoyed a leisurely coffee. I also had a chance to speak with the owner and one of his friends "off script," which was nice.

Feeling somewhat refreshed, I wandered off in search of the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. The Catholic basilica was impossible to miss, what with the massive spire that looked like a cross between a hurricane lantern and a lighthouse. (That, and all the tour buses, which disgorged "pilgrims" on a frequent and regular basis.) I know it's wrong to judge by appearances, but the whole thing looked disconcertingly modern, with all of the excess that implies. I spotted a few street signs in Arabic and English that led me to a church that looked about right, but it was shut. It was also several blocks away from the location indicated on the tourist map I'd picked up at the hostel. A passerby eliminated my confusion when he told me it was the Coptic Orthodox church. A few more minutes of walking brought me to the "Greek" Orthodox site. (In the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, the Orthodox Church is referred to as "Rum Orthodox," i.e. Roman.  The Ottomans knew which empire they had conquered, even if later European historians got confused. It was never called the "Byzantine" Empire.) The tour buses were much less frequent at this "traditional" site of the Annunciation, and for almost an hour there was nobody in the church except me and a church member. We got to talking a bit, in a mixture of Arabic and English. Nabil told me that they have Vespers every day at 4:15, "but not today" because of a funeral. They also have weekday Liturgies every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:00. After chatting some more, I took my leave and went in search of some long-overdue lunch. The burger joint I found is owned by a member of the church council, and while I was waiting for my food, we got to talking. He is very proud of the Christian heritage in Nazareth, but also very pessimistic about the future of Arab Christians in Israel.  The systemic discrimination they encounter from the state and the open prejudice they face from both Jews and Muslims continues to drive the Christian exodus from their ancestral lands.

On returning to the hostel, I sat down on my bed and began sorting through my photos from the previous few days. Within five minutes, I was asleep. When I woke up after dark, I continued the task and then began uploading them. I decided that writing an update could wait for another day. Earlier in the day, I had been looking through the binder with bus schedules at the reception desk, and discovered I could catch a bus to Amman from Nazareth, without having to travel to Tel Aviv. A handwritten note at the bottom of the page indicated that as of 24/06/2012, these buses would run daily. Satisfied that I'd have one more day in Galilee, I decided to visit Mount Tabor on Tuesday and paid for a third night at the hostel. As the crow flies, the site of the Transfiguration of Christ is only 9 kms from Nazareth -- but taking that route would involve quite a bit of trespassing.   The bus binder had a page with detailed instructions on how to get to Tabor by bus.

Tuesday morning after breakfast, I used the phone at reception to contact the bus company to book a seat for Wednesday morning. Guess what? The "daily" option only applies for the summer months - the rest of the time, buses to Amman run every other day, and Wednesday is not on the schedule. Suraida, a grandchild of Fauzi Azar,‎ came to my assistance. She phoned a cab company and negotiated a fair price for me to be taken from Nazareth to the border crossing. It was three times as expensive as the bus would have been, but given the distance and time involved, it was the best solution available.

With all that sorted, I set out for Mount Tabor. Thanks to the info at the hostel, I knew which buses I'd need to catch, and (just as important) where to catch them. What I didn't know was when and how often they ran. I must have missed my first ride by a matter of minutes, because it was almost a full hour before the 356 came by. That took me to the bus station in Afula, where I was able to catch the 350 before it pulled out. Half an hour later, on our way through the town on the shoulder of Tabor, we passed ‎another 350 heading in the opposite direction. "Aha!" I thought. "They run every thirty minutes." As we passed the road to the peak, the driver indicated it to me and let me off at the next stop. There was a small-ish parking lot there with half a dozen tour buses parked, and a small transit terminal where the people transferred from their coaches to passenger vans for the ride up. I decided to walk.

As I headed back towards the road, I noticed a trail leading off the road and uphill. When I investigated, I found a sign in Hebrew and English which identified this as a section of both the Israel National Trail and a local trail. It noted that the trail was intended for fit climbers only, and that people should have a hat and at least three litres of water. I had two litres in my daypack, but it was a relatively cool day. I'd left my walking stick at the hostel, but I had my Tilley with me. Onwards and upwards!

It was a beautiful hike, but they weren't kidding about the fitness level required. It was a very stiff climb, and the thought of making the return descent without my walking stick did not fill me with joy. I took the twisty turny switchbacked road back down -- probably three times the distance, but it didn't take all that much longer‎ to walk. As I approached the main road again, I spotted a bus heading back the way I needed to go. Checking the time, I saw it was three and a half hours since I'd been dropped off. "Oh well, the next one should be along soon." There was a bus stop for the return trip just opposite the road access to Mount Tabor - no shelter or bench, but I knew I wouldn't be waiting long. [That's called "foreshadowing," kids. It's a literary device.] Thirteen minutes later, the next bus drove by, heading uphill. I didn't know how long the route continued beyond where I'd been let off, but it couldn't  be far. Right? R-i-i-i-g-h-t.... On that route, at that time of day, buses run once per hour. Within Israel, it's possible to get pretty much anywhere by bus, and it's really quite cheap, but if a traveller doesn't have a schedule, it can become a good test of patience. (Except on the Sabbath, when buses don't run at all.) It was 8:00 pm by the time I got back to Nazareth -- the 18 km (as the crow flies) round trip had taken me nine hours, including my time on the peak. Earlier in the day I'd set aside the money I knew I would need for my journey to Jordan. On the way back to the hostel, I stopped at a restaurant for dinner and spent all the rest of my money. When I reached Jordan on Wednesday, it was with less than a shekel jingling in my pocket. (But that account will have to wait for later.)

Having regained some strength with a good meal, I resolved to sit down and write a decent update. When I arrived at the hostel, that plan died when I met a fellow Canadian who had been globetrotting for the past five months. We sat in the courtyard and talked for s‎everal hours before I finally excused myself and headed off to bed. And that was my last full day in the Holy Land. Stay tuned for my Jordanian journey!

Apr 20, 2015

Church of the Annunciation Iconostasis


http://flic.kr/p/rWNn9B

Fauzi Azar Lobby


This hostel is set up in an Ottoman-style mansion with 15 rooms. The view is incredible, the courtyard has a fountain / koi pond, and it's only 90 shekels per night with breakfast. The really cool thing is, anyone with a Lebanese or Syrian stamp in their passport gets their first night free. Yup, that's me. :) http://flic.kr/p/sec8m6

Iconostasis



The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It was a little strange having all the scaffolding in place for repairs to the roof. http://flic.kr/p/rgehZu

Oasis



Looking towards Jordan over the Dead Sea. http://flic.kr/p/sdepca

Apr 19, 2015

My Last Sunday in the Holy Land

After Vespers yesterday afternoon, I walked around a bit and then headed back to the hostel. I said hello and chatted a bit with the new person at reception ‎and then crawled into my bunk to write up the afternoon's excitement. Just as I was finishing up, Mousa tapped on the door to the room and said he was going to the market. I hit send on the message and went along with him. (I was the only person staying at the Bethlehem Youth Hostel last night, so he must have figured it would be okay to step out for a few minutes.)

On our return, we shared a meal together and got talking more. Mousa is an evangelical student at the Bethlehem Bible College. I didn't ask what his Catholic father and Orthodox mother thought of that, but he assured me he wasn't like some evangelicals -- he is convinced that non-evangelicals are Christians too. (I was quite gratified to learn that most of the students in the Biblical Studies department with him are actually Orthodox.)‎ I doubt my finances will allow me to attend, but the Christ at the Checkpoint conference scheduled for 2016 is very intriguing.
christatthecheckpoint.com  (This media-rich site works much better on a computer than a mobile device.)‎ After verifying that I could leave my pack at the hostel and pick it up after Liturgy, I excused myself and began preparing for bed.

I slept well, and this morning I woke up a few minutes before my alarm. I was at the Church of the Nativity by 7:30 to find the chanters halfway through Matins. It was strange but neat to hear the service in Greek and Arabic. There was a brief pause at 8:00 when His Eminence Archbishop ‎Theophylactos of Jordan entered the church, but by 8:30 the Liturgy had begun. Two hours later, we were done. When I tried to revisit the Grotto beneath the altar, I discovered there was an English language Mass being said in a side altar. The priests were performing the consecration of the Host, so I decided it was better not to intrude. Presumably the tour companies all know the church is off-limits Sunday morning, because I didn't see any groups. I'm not sure how many different sanctuaries there are on the site -- there's a large Franciscan church sharing a wall with the Orthodox church, and I believe the Armenians also have space there. The 19th century "status quo" agreement for sharing holy places is still in force, but the situation is much less confusing in Bethlehem compared to Jerusalem. Walking around town a bit I saw an Ethiopian monastery, a Coptic monastery, a Lutheran church, a Baptist church, and numerous Catholic churches.

After a bite of breakfast‎, I started going over my travel plans for the day. I dropped the notion of visiting Mar Sabbas Monastery, in part because of the expense of hiring a taxi, but also because the subsequent walk to the Dead Sea through the Judean wilderness is very daunting. It's one thing to make plans in the comfort of the hostel, it's another to see the parched rolling hills shimmering in the heat and haze. Instead, I took a shared taxi ("sherut" in Hebrew, "servees" in Arabic) to Jericho.   I ignored the archaeological riches in this 10,000 year old town, and went to the beach. I'm sure most people reading this are already aware of the geological oddities of the Dead Sea, but at 402 metres below sea level, you can't get any lower than this while still working on your tan. I successfully avoided sunburn by taking several short dips, followed by a freshwater shower and a spell in the shade sipping water.  It was wonderfully relaxing! (Jericho will have to wait for another trip.) While I was there, I was surprised to hear someone calling my name. Without my glasses on it took a few seconds to focus, but there before me was one of the Chinese students I'd met at the hostel in Jerusalem on Friday. We didn't talk long, but the encounter left me with a smile on my face. 

Three hours after I arrived, I was walking back to the highway. Another reason for skipping Mar Sabbas and Jericho is the transportation situation. Looking at a map of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, I had assumed I'd be able to hop a bus or servees north along Highway 90 from the Dead Sea to Tiberias, on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. I leaned today that this isn't possible. The only option from Jericho is a servees to Jenin, and then maybe a bus or taxi across into Israel. That seemed rather iffy, so I put my pack down on the bench of the first bus stop I came to on the highway. According to my Lonely Planet guide, it's possible to get to ‎Jerusalem by bus relatively easily. There was no schedule posted, so I began rolling down my sleeves to protect my forearms from the setting sun. I'd finished one arm when a bus appeared, and it was even the one I needed!

The landscape in this part of the country is surreal. There is no flat surface anywhere, unless it's been bulldozed into existence. The hills aren't all that tall, but they are many. The winter often sees heavy rain which creates flash floods‎ that roar through the otherwise dry creekbeds between the hills -- yes, it's possible to drown in the desert! Some of the tourist guides refer to this region as the Judean wilderness, while others call it the Judean desert. For many people, the word "desert" conjures up images of sand dunes and camels, but the tough rocky hills, general lack of moisture, and temperature extremes of this region all fit the bill. And this is where Christ spent 40 days fasting after his baptism. (On the outskirts of Jericho, there's a summit known as the Mount of Temptation, associated with that time in the life of Christ.) There's an image of Christ, very popular in some Christian circles, which depicts him gently knocking at a door, illumined by the light of the moon. He looks soft and sweet, and very very white. Let me tell you, anyone capable of surviving in this wilderness alone for 40 days (never mind fasting) is gonna be tough and brown -- kinda like a walnut, if that's not too disrespectful a comparison to make. Yet another reason for me to put my pudgy white body on an airconditioned bus to Jerusalem!

When I arrived at the bus terminal in Jerusalem, I made inquiries about transport to Nazareth. Apparently the only way to do it by bus is to first go to Haifa and then hop another bus from there. It's not that long ago that I was walking in the opposite direction, and now I'm cruising along in luxury back the way I came. The bus even had WiFi, although the much smaller one from Haifa to Nazareth did not. My (tentative) plan‎ is to spend Sunday and Monday nights in Nazareth, Tuesday night in Tel Aviv, and stay in Amman Wednesday and Thursday nights. That will give me all day Thursday to visit Petra. As always, this is conditioned by the Lebanese IBM - Inshallah, Bukara, Min shuuf. (God willing, tomorrow, we'll see.)

Apr 18, 2015

How I Spent My Afternoon

Arriving in Bethlehem, I fired off the last update, mainly because I was feeling guilty about the long silence. After convincing the small coterie of taxi drivers which gathered around that I really did not need a taxi today, I headed uphill towards the Church of the Nativity. I stopped at the tourist office at Manger Square and picked up a map, and realised how close the‎ Bethlehem Youth Hostel is to the church. I checked in and freshened up a bit and was inside the church by 2:00. It was both disappointing and encouraging to see the major renovations underway -- disappointing because there is scaffolding everywhere inside and the ceiling is completely covered, but encouraging because it means there's the money and the will to do major maintenance. The church was dedicated in 326 AD, and has been in continuous use as a place of Christian worship ever since. When the Persians arrived in the Holy Land in the early 7th century, they spared this church.  Apparently, when they entered and saw the iconography of the three Magi, they recognised their own traditional garb. It may not be true, but it's a good story!

While I was admiring the iconostasis from a distance, I spotted a priest. I got his blessing in Arabic and ‎then asked about the time for Vespers. I had just enough time to go have lunch at a nearby restaurant -- I had a smallish breakfast this morning and nothing since, not even coffee! When I returned back at church, I was just in time to see the bishop arrive and be greeted by the clergy. (I'm not sure who he is, but since he was only wearing one pectoral icon instead of three I'm pretty sure it wasn't the patriarch.) After the censing of the church during "O Lord I have cried," one of the deacons approached me and another man in the congregation, asked if we were Orthodox, and told us to follow him. He led us into the altar, and gave us each a large processional cross to carry in the entrance. For my non-Orthodox readers, this may seem like a cool thing but not really a big deal. My Orthodox readers, however, know what a privilege was extended to me today. After "Phos Hilaron," the deacon thanked us(!!!) and we returned to our places in the nave. Needless to say, I don't have the photos to prove all this -- it really wasn't an appropriate time for a selfie.

The pilgrimage may be over, but the experience keeps getting better and better!

The line to enter the Grotto of the Nativity was way too long for me, but I plan to be at church nice and early tomorrow morning, long before the tour buses from Jerusalem arrive.  After Liturgy, I plan to take a taxi to Mar Sabbas Monastery, established in 439 AD. ‎ From there it should be a three or four hour walk to the Dead Sea, where I plan to camp for the night. I'll be carrying at least three litres of water with me, and I'll be walking with the sun behind me. (Or maybe I'll ask if I can spend the night at the monastery, and head east just before sunrise when it's still cool so that I arrive at the beach in time for a nice refreshing dip.)

Clearly, the last few days of my journey will be busy ones. I really don't know how much of this is even possible, but at this point it's all icing on the cake. As long as I'm at the airport in Amman by 8:00 Friday, I'll be happy.

April 18: Bethlehem Bound

The paucity of updates lately is due to the many interesting conversations I've had in the hostel the past few evenings. Instead of spending my time thinking and writing (both of which require solitude), I've been speaking with history students from China, a Messianic Jew from the US, a Muslim woman from the UK with a surprisingly syncretistic religious outlook, an American contractor based in Beer Sheva, an Argentinian backpacker... Their stories are as interesting as they are varied. Last evening I stayed up very late, sorting and uploading photos -- seven dozen of them, in fact.

This morning I finally found the Secretary of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in his office. His Grace +ARISTARCHOS stamped and signed my notebook, marking the "official" end to my pilgrimage. I'll probably continue to collect stamps right up until the time I leave, but I'm no longer "on pilgrimage."
As I type this, I'm on a bus bound for Bethlehem. The ticket cost 8 shekels, while the taxi driver who collared me as I approached the bus station had quoted 150. Yeah....

I hope to get to Vespers this evening and Liturgy tomorrow morning‎ before resuming my journey. If it's possible, I'll visit the monastery of Mar Sabbas on the way to the Dead Sea. The weather forecast is hot and sunny, so if I can find relatively cheap transport, so much the better. According to the Lonely Planet guide, there's no problem at all with spending the night on the public beaches, and this has been confirmed by the staff at one of the hostels I've stayed at.

I had planned to leave Jerusalem much earlier than I did, since there is still so much I would like to see before I fly home, but I've worked out a tentative schedule that takes me to Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Tel Aviv, Amman, and Petra. All of that before my flight leaves Amman at 11:10 Friday morning‎.

Just a few minutes after passing the "Arab Orthodox Sports Center" in Beit Jala, we arrived in Bethlehem. Time to find a hostel, dump my pack, and see the city!

Apr 17, 2015

Photos

Well, I didn't make it to Bethlehem today as planned, but I did finally take the time to sort through the photos I've taken over the past two weeks and start uploading. To view them as I post them, please visit
Flickr.

I've arranged them, and photos dating back ten years, in groups‎ to make the viewing experience slightly less chaotic.
flickr.com/photos/phool4XC/sets

Apr 16, 2015

54 Candles



One candle for each person who has supported me in any way on my pilgrimage, burning in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If you think I may have lit one for you, you're probably right. http://flic.kr/p/safMv4

Apr 15, 2015

April 14: Jerusalem with Jeremy

The wonderful coffee grinder / espresso dispenser at the hostel has been gone for repairs since Sunday, so Tuesday began without my customary hit of caffeine. I was feeling a little sluggish, so rather than explore on my own, I decided to take advantage of the free Old City walking tour in the morning. Several others from the hostel ‎decided to do the same, so we met in the lobby and walked to the Jaffa Gate together. Once there, we were sorted into groups and the two hour tour commenced.

I hadn't done as much background reading for Jerusalem as I normally do when I visit a place. In part that's because on a trip of this length and duration, it's impossible to adequately prepare for each location visited, but there's also a misguided sense of familiarity with Jerusalem from my reading of the Scriptures. I  say "misguided" because the Jerusalem we read about in the Bible has been conquered, destroyed, and rebuilt several times in the past 3000 years.

At the very start of the tour, our guide (Jeremy) used the Tower of David to illustrate this very point. ‎ The tower is a significant fortification located next to the Jaffa Gate. (The gate and current walls of the Old City are "only" 500 years old, having been (re)built by the Ottomans.) When the Crusaders entered the city in 1099, they slaughtered everyone they met indiscriminately - with the exception of the Armenians, for reasons unknown. Seeing this tower, and knowing from the Bible that King David had fortified the city when he took it from the Canaanites, they naturally assumed this was his work. Except, of course, it wasn't. The "Tower of David" was built during the reign of King Herod, with subsequent improvements and additions over the millenia. Still, the name the Crusaders gave it has stuck. Why not change the name, now that we know better? Jeremy's answer was quite simple. Tradition. 

The stories we tell are meaningful, even if they are not factually true. They are what make a section of exposed bedrock in a church an object of veneration instead of a mere geological formation. Facts and dates are not unimportant, but it's the stories around them that make them significant to the non-historian. Ideally, a good story will correspond to the historical facts, but sometimes it's just not possible to verify it. Case in point: on the night he was betrayed, Christ and his disciples ate a meal together in a large upper room of a house. In the Old City, there are two sites which claim to be that upper room. They can't both be right, and it's possible that neither of them are. The Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate has a church with an inscription dating back 1500 years which states that this was the place. It was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD, and rebuilt three years later. That's all well and good, but the inscription was made almost 500 years after the fact. Similarly, there are four sites on the Mount of Olives which have been identified by various churches as the site of Christ's ascension into heaven. They are all located at the top of the hill, but it's entirely possible the ascension took place somewhere on the slope partway down.

Anyway, the two hour Old City tour was well worth the time, and I was impressed enough with our guide that I decided to stick around and take the much longer Mount of Olives tour he was leading at 2:00 pm. This was not a free tour, but his knowledge, wit, and general demeanour convinced me that it would be 90 shekels well spent. If ever you find yourself in Jerusalem in need of a guide, I highly recommend Jeremy Collins. If you have a group coming, you can contact him and arrange for a personalised tour. 

It was 7:00 in the evening by the time I reached the hostel again. After a light dinner, I went to my room and started to read but I was out by 8:00. I'd provide a list of highlights from the tours, but it's now shortly past 9:00 Wednesday morning, and I'm eager to get moving. Today I plan to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and also the Israel Museum. Tomorrow I'll be returning to the Old City one last time, and then Friday morning I plan to walk to Bethlehem.

Apr 13, 2015

April 13: Day 5 in Jerusalem

This morning while lingering over the breakfast table, I bade farewell to three people‎ I had made significant connections with while staying at the hostel. I doubt any of them will ever see this, but - Sasha, Marija, Tobias - I have been enriched by meeting you! (The photo is of the lineup outside the Jaffa Gate Saturday morning.)

Today, my kid sister turned 40. I wished her a HAPPY BIRTHDAY through Facebook. Hard to believe I've known the kidlet for 37 years. (Our family adopted her when she was 3.)

I didn't stray too far from the hostel today, not even to attend Liturgy. At noon, I went out to find a post office, and when they didn't have one, a cardboard mailing tube for my pilgrim credential from the "Custodia Franciscalis Terræ Sanctæ." The art supply shop 500 metres from the hostel had very large ones for 16.90 shekels. When I got back to the hostel, I cut it down to size. Unlike the document I received from the Vatican four months ago, I won't bother mailing this one home.‎ The tube will protect it in my (now very light) backpack for the rest of my travels.

Ah yes, the rest of my travels! Today I also paid to extend my stay at the hostel until Friday. I think that after another good night's sleep, I'll be up for some exploration of the Holy City, beyond the path between the hostel and the Holy Sepulchre.  I signed up for the free walking tour of the Old City tomorrow. It leaves at 10:20 am and will be finished by around 1:00 pm. That means I get to sleep in and have breakfast before having a leisurely stroll around the perimeter of the "Old" City. (Since the Romans razed the city in 70 AD, the current configuration is {comparatively speaking} not all that old, given the 3000+ years of recorded history associated with the site. [Damascus and Aleppo, on the other hand, have been continuously inhabited for at least 8000 years. I had the opportunity to visit both cities in 2006, before the current hellstorm was unleashed on the suffering Syrian population. Lord, have mercy!] Right, sorry. Where was I?)

Between now and Thursday evening, I plan to see as much of Jerusalem as I can. Tomorrow's tour of the Old City will leave me in the vicinity of the Western Wall (where I will leave a note from Jasmina, whom I met in Macedonia) and the Temple Mount. If I'm able to catch the evening light over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, I should have some nice photos to upload 24 hours from now. On Wednesday, I'll probably visit the Israel Museum and the Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum {And not to diminish from the horror inflicted upon European Jews by the Nazis, but my admiration for Pope Francis continues to deepen after his frank remarks about the first genocide of the 20th century.}).

Thursday remains open to possibilities, but I think that after checking out of the hostel on Friday, I'll walk to Bethlehem. It's about 15 kms away, and the forecast is for sunny skies with a high of 18° C. When I asked the travel consultants at the hostel today, I was assured that crossing the checkpoint into the West Bank on foot would be no more hassle than if I were in a tour bus.

I'll probably stay in Bethlehem overnight, and then on Saturday walk to the northern part of the Dead Sea. I'm not sure how close to the Qumran caves tourists are allowed to get, but I'll see what I can see. I may camp along the shore of the Dead Sea, and then walk into Jericho on Sunday. The amount of time I can spend there will depend on the bus schedules. I'm hoping I can catch a bus north to Capernaum along Highway 90 which runs through the Jordan Valley below sea level. From there, I hope to walk to the peak of Mount Tabor and seek refuge Monday (or Tuesday) night at one of the two monasteries there. The next day, I'll follow the "Jesus Trail" to Nazareth, and then catch a bus to Tel Aviv via Haifa so I can get to Amman, Jordan in time for my flight home the morning of April 24. I'm hoping to celebrate the feast of St George in Tel Aviv, but if that doesn't work, I have a few Serbian friends back home who will be celebrating their Slava on May 6. I'm sure both Milan and Peter would welcome me at their feasts.

As always, if I've used terminology which is unfamiliar, I encourage you to use a search engine to resolve your confusion (DuckDuckGo.com is excellent!). Also, these plans of mine which I post are no more than possibilities, suggested by proximity and my personal interest. The only certain thing is that I've paid for a nonrefundable seat on a flight leaving Amman at 11:10 local time on April 24. Please pray that I attain that goal, if nothing else!

April 11 and 12: Pascha

My arrival in Jerusalem on Wednesday ‎marked the end of daily walking with my pack on my back. Thursday morning, I walked from the hostel to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was the marker I'd set when calculating the distance remaining. Saturday evening (and well into Sunday morning), I fulfilled the stated goal of this pilgrimage, which was to celebrate Pascha in Jerusalem.

My pilgrimage is over, but I have another twelve days before my flight is scheduled to leave Amman, Jordan. I haven't seen much of Jerusalem yet -- between getting to Holy Week services and sleeping, I've been too busy for sightseeing.   Given the sleep deprivation associated with Holy Week and Pascha, I think I'll be getting quite a bit more ‎rest in the coming days. (Plus, I think I may be getting sick. Two days ago I started feeling that hot scratchiness in the back of my throat, and it hasn't gone away.)
‎On Thursday when I walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I had noticed a sign in several languages stating that entrance to the Holy Fire ceremony was only through the Jaffa Gate. I joined the lineup there at 9:00 Saturday morning, hoping that the five hours of waiting before the service would pay off.  There are three pedestrian approaches to the Jaffa Gate and each one had a police barricade set up. I was at the westernmost one, which was also the most crowded. Funny thing about crowds -- they're frighteningly stupid. There was one large tour group which arrived about an hour after I did and immediately began trying to get closer to the barricade. Everyone's personal space vanished and a few shoving and shouting matches erupted. Around noon, a group of people left the front of the queue and began working their way back through the crowd. I recognised one of them as the Serbian woman I'd met at the hostel two days earlier. This is her third visit to Jerusalem, so I figured her departure meant she knew something I didn't.  I made a note of the direction she was heading, but before going that way myself I paused at one of the other Jaffa Gate barricades. The crowd was much thinner there and I was able to approach and speak with one of the Israeli police officers. He told me the barriers would remain in place until two or three o'clock in the afternoon. That, of course, meant that none of the people waiting would be able to attend the service, which had been my experience Friday morning. [Side note: before coming I had been told that a) it was impossible to get inside the church for the service without special permission and b) that it was possible to get in, once all the VIPs had been admitted. After arriving back at the hostel Saturday afternoon, I heard from a friend in Poland who had witnessed the service the two previous years.]

I wound up entering the Old City by the Dung Gate, near the Western Wall, the other gates also being closed.  The twisty narrow streets of the Muslim Quarter were easy to navigate with my GPS app, but all the roads and alleys leading to the Holy Sepulchre had roadblocks with Israeli police allowing people through only after being satisfied they were not heading to the church.‎ (Muslims and Jews only, basically.)  As I was winding my way through the Old City, a boy spotted me and asked if I was looking for the church. He promised me he could get me there, and not having any other options, I decided to see where he would lead me. We backtracked a bit, and then he took me into what seemed to be a dead end. In the corner of the alley was a narrow flight of stairs leading to the rooftop over the souq. After shaking me down for money (which I expected), he pointed out another staircase which he said I should take after waiting a few minutes. When I headed towards it, I was disappointed to see a police officer sitting beside it, with another barricade and more police at the bottom of the stairs. Since it was just the two of us, I decided to appeal to him, in the hope that he would let me through to try my luck at the next roadblock. I showed him my notebook of stamps documenting my progress over the last seven months, and while he was impressed, he wasn't impressed enough to violate his orders and let me by.

I had left Jaffa Gate at noon, and spent an hour and a half trying to find a way in. I knew that the Russian cathedral would be receiving the Fire at 2:30, so I had just enough time to get there. The fuss about this particular service may seem a little odd to my non-Orthodox readers‎, so here is a site which gives some background.  
www.holyfire.org/eng/index.htm
Wikipedia also has a write-up, which includes various attempts to explain the phenomenon without recourse to the miraculous. While some of them are more plausible than others, none of them are able to explain everything that occurs.   I was a little disappointed at not being able to witness it for myself, but this was not the focus of my pilgrimage. (An Anglican acquaintance of mine had made the comment that this event seemed out of character when compared to the miracles performed by our Lord in His earthly ministry.‎)

When I returned to the hostel after the service at the Russian church, I met up with my Russian roommate. He had not returned to the room at all Friday night, which I thought was a little strange. It turns out that he had spent the night in a church in the Old City, and so found himself inside the perimeter set up by the Israeli police. Yes, he made it to the service. He showed me the videos he'd shot with his smartphone which included a shot of him passing his hand slowly through the flame without harm.‎ (This unique characteristic of the Holy Fire only lasts about half an hour before the flame begins to burn normally.) After talking a bit more, we both crashed out in anticipation of a long night ahead.

Since I had found refuge at the Russian cathedral of the Holy Trinity for other services during my stay, I decided to celebrate Pascha with them as well. Their schedule indicated that the first of the services would begin at 11:00 pm, but when I arrived at 10:30 things were already underway. As I was entering the church, I saw Marija, the Serbian woman from the hostel‎. She had also been unsuccessful in getting into the Holy Sepulchre earlier in the day. Apparently the thing to do (for future reference) is enter the Old City by the Dung Gate very early in the morning and just hang out as inconspicuously as possible until it's possible to enter the church. My Polish friend told me that a good vantage point is from the gallery overlooking the Edicule, which is reached from the Golgotha chapel. There is much less crowding, and you can see the flame spreading through the crowd below.

It was almost 4:00 in the morning when I left the church and started walking back to the hostel. It had started raining overnight, but I'd stuffed my rain poncho and Tilley hat ‎in my small pack, so I stayed dry. After the heat of the previous week, the sudden drop in temperature Thursday was a welcome surprise -- the rain, not so much. I retrieved the meat and cheese I'd purchased earlier Saturday and broke the fast quietly. I also began typing this update, but fell asleep after the first paragraph. 

I slept through the complimentary breakfast at the hostel Sunday morning‎, so I headed out to find some food. On returning, I saw Marija in the lobby. We wound up talking for an hour or so, about solo travel, liturgics, Linux, and many other topics besides.  After our meeting at the cathedral the night before, she had gone on to the Church of St Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. It was less crowded there, but they didn't finish the Paschal Liturgy until 5:30 in the morning. She still hadn't slept, and it was now approaching noon. We traded contact information and then I headed up to my room to rest a bit, and perhaps then finish this update.

At 2:00, someone else checked in to the room. Eliyahu was born and raised in an observant Jewish family in the USA.  He is now a Torah-observant follower of the Messiah. His interests in etymology, biblical studies, and history meant that I didn't do any writing Sunday afternoon. After we'd spent a few hours talking, I started getting ready to attend the Agape Vespers service at the Russian cathedral, while Eliyahu laid down for a rest. It had been raining most of the day, including a short period of hail and some lightning, but it was sunny and mild when I left for church. Two hours later, it was a different story. A strong wind had come up out of the southwest, bringing heavy rain and more lightning. I had left my poncho at the hostel, so I sheltered under a store awning until the storm abated and then scurried back to the hostel. I hung my damp outer layer from the bunkbed to dry and went downstairs to the bar, where I bought an order of "homemade" nachos. They were good, and surprisingly filling. Heading back up to my room, I began perusing the Lonely Planet guide to "Israel and the Palestinian Territories" I'd bought on the way to church. A short while later, one of the other men in the four bed dorm came in. We had talked briefly over the past few days, but Sunday evening saw us trading stories of travel. He's heading on to Tel Aviv for a few days before flying home to Germany at the end of the week. I turned in early, as I'm still pretty tired, and the tickly throat of a few days ago has transformed into sinus congestion and a cough.

CHRIST IS RISEN!
Χριστός ανέστη! 
‎!المسيح قام
Христос Воскресе!



Apr 11, 2015

April 10: Day Two in Jerusalem

Friday morning both me and my Russian ‎roommate were up shortly after 6:00. He was heading off to the 7:00 service at the Russian cathedral where I'd been last night, while I was headed to the Holy Sepulchre. I knew the first service of the day was scheduled for 8:30, but I also knew that I should be at least an hour early. When I arrived at the square in front of the main entrance to the church, there were police everywhere, some in riot gear. There were also barricades set up in the square, keeping an aisle clear to the door along one side of the square. At 7:30, there were less than a hundred people waiting.  This number grew, slowly at first, but by 8:15 the square was packed and the police had moved the barricades behind us, preventing any more people from entering the square. This is what I'd expected, since the same thing had occurred the day before. I was very eager to get into the church, since I had dressed for church, and not for standing in a square in what had become overnight very chilly weather. I was also on the verge of falling asleep on my feet. The press of bodies would probably have kept me from hitting the ground, but I didn't want to put it to the test. At 8:30, one of the bells above us began tolling once every few minutes. I figured they'd be opening the doors of the church soon, but it was not to be. At 9:00, an honour guard of police, monks, and four fez-wearing men bearing iron-tipped staves appeared, accompanying the Patriarch of Jerusalem to the entrance. There was a knocking at the door and then a wooden ladder was procured, and a man climbed up and inserted an ancient key in the lock. The door was opened and the dignitaries processed in. They didn't stay long, and once they had cleared the area the police began allowing people to enter the church. I really should have gone to the Russian cathedral, since once inside I discovered that the main sanctuary was closed off. Lesson learned - for the evening service I did just that.

After walking through the church, I made my way out again, being channeled towards the souq in the Old City by police barriers. When I heard the magic word "Coffee?" I gave my very emphatic assent.‎ Once refreshed, I continued to the Patriarchate, hoping today to receive an official stamp in my notebook. The young man at the main gate was fluent in Greek, Arabic, and English, and probably Hebrew as well. He informed me that Aristarchos the secretary was too busy today to see me and stamp my book. I figured there was no sense in arguing the point even though it contradicted what I'd been told the day before. 

The weather continued to be quite chilly with brief periods of rain, although at times the sun shone through, striking the tops of the walls without warming the narrow streets below.  ‎I walked through the crowded narrow streets of the Old Town towards the Jaffa Gate. Near the gate, the Franciscans operate the Christian Information Centre. In addition to the other services they offer, they will also issue a certificate of pilgrimage when requested. The Austrian priest was very interested in the details of my journey, as were the two English-speaking ladies in line behind me. One of them had done the Camino last year, and understood the radical change of life returning home from pilgrimage presents. After having my photo taken, I headed back to the hostel.

It was strangely quiet as I walked along Jaffa Street. As I discovered the day before, the trams have stopped running until Sunday due to the end of Passover and the Sabbath. There weren't many pedestrians, and all the shops on the street were shut. In my exhaustion and anticipation, it seemed as if the city was already participating in the great Sabbath of Christ. That didn't stop me from purchasing some juice, bread, and hummus from a small "super"market I spotted on a side street. I breakfasted on that, and after putting a load of laundry in the machine at the hostel I promptly went to sleep.‎ 

When I woke up a few hours later, I collected my laundry and wrote an update. Then it was time to head to church. I returned to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity for the evening service, but I discovered that the Lamentations aren't sung in the Russian tradition. I'm not exactly sure what was being read within the general framework of Orthros, but my guess is that it was Psalm 118 (in the LXX, Ps 119 in the Hebrew numbering). There were two bishops officiating, along with several monastics and perhaps a dozen priests. The service was a little shorter than the evening before, but it also began an hour and a half later. It was 11:00 when I finally returned to the hostel. After a small meal, I crashed hard. With no early morning service, I figured I could afford to sleep in a little on Saturday and still get a place in line for the Service of Holy Fire which begins at 2:00 pm. Five hours in advance should be sufficient!



Apr 10, 2015

April 9: First Day in Jerusalem

It was around 9:00 on Wednesday evening when I walked into the lobby of the Abraham Hostel on Davidka Square in Jerusalem. An older gentleman I'd met in the hostel in Haifa had recommended ‎it, and it's part of the independent Israeli hostel organisation ILH. I hadn't made an advance booking, since I just wasn't sure when I'd be arriving. As it turns out, this worked to my advantage.

This year, the Jewish Passover began with the western Easter weekend and concludes with the Orthodox Pascha weekend. All 260 beds in the hostel were booked because of this confluence of holy days. However, one guest had decided he wanted to move on earlier than he'd originally planned. It's against the hostel's policy to issue refunds -- once booked‎, the bed is yours! Thankfully, the staff members are allowed to use their judgment, so Alexei got his refund, I got a place to sleep, and the hostel got their money. Win win win.

Once I'd made my way to the dorm room and started to unpack, I struck up a conversation with one of the other people in the room. He's working on his M.Sc. in solid state physics in Germany, but had come to Israel to participate in a massive Scout hike along the Israel National Trail. We got to talking, and before I knew it, it was past midnight. (I was so utterly exhausted that the lateness off the hour simply didn't make any difference.) We'd started off talking equipment and preparations for a long solo trek, and he was very interested in my gear. Before long, though, the conversation drifted into theology. He's a non-observant Jew, but I was surprised at how much he knew about Christianity. I eventually turned off my light at 1:30, after setting my alarm for 7:00.

At breakfast Thursday morning I met two other people in town for Pascha, both Serbian.   After chatting for a bit, I headed upstairs to pack up.   Arriving as I did without a reservation, I needed to change rooms, which involved checking out and leaving my luggage in the hostel's storage room. After I got all that sorted, I headed off to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on foot -- the final segment of my pilgrimage. The hostel is advertised as being a twenty minute walk from the Old City, but it took me a bit longer than that. I'm tired! By the time I got to the church, the morning service was over and the police were removing the barricades. I spent the next several hours inside the conglomeration of sanctuaries which makes up the Holy Sepulchre complex. Breakfast had consisted of nothing but tomatoes, cucmbers, and coffee, so I eventually left the church in search of nourishment. Falafel and hummus were not far off.

I spent the next hour or so wandering the streets of the Christian Quarter. I finally found the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It's not far from the Holy Sepulchre, but I got turned around a few times. The first monk I spoke to had ‎lived in Windsor (Ontario) for several years. I explained that I had come to Jerusalem on foot, and asked about a stamp for my little notebook. He told me to come back the next day (Great and Holy Friday) and the secretary, Aristarchos, would help me.

Back to the hostel then, where I moved in to my new room and met one of my new roommates. ‎He's from Moscow, and is in Jerusalem for Holy Week. It was touching to see how delighted he was to learn that I'm also Orthodox. After talking a bit, we both stretched out for a rest before the evening service. He was headed to the Russian monastery on the Mount of Olives, while I'd decided to go back to the Holy Sepulchre. While I slept, all the weariness and pain of the past seven months had settled into my bones. Asking at the front desk, I learned that a single tram ticket costs seven shekels (about $2.25 Canadian). Since the tramline runs straight along Jaffa Street between the hostel and the Jaffa Gate, I decided I'd done enough walking. It was only after I'd purchased my dated ticket that I realised the trams had stopped running for the day. (sigh) Hobbling along, I happened to glance up a side street about halfway to my destination and said to myself, "That has to be a Russian church." I arrived half an hour before the service started and sat in an out of the way corner until it did. The pain and exhaustion remained with me for the next three and a half hours, but they soon became irrelevant.  (Well, the last forty-five minutes were a little rough.) My knowledge of Old Church Slavonic is pretty limited but this is the nineteenth year I've attended the Service of the Twelve Gospels, so I knew what was going on. The 15th Antiphon of this particular service is heart-rending in its beauty. I wrote a bit about what it means to me last year, which can be found here:
http://phool4xc.blogspot.com/2014/04/great-and-holy-friday.html
The austerity and beauty and joy and sorrow of this service is beyond my descriptive powers to convey. "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth."

Apr 8, 2015

You Shall Be Comforted in Jerusalem

This passage from the appointed readings for the past Friday stuck with me, for obvious reasons. I guess I'm technically in Jerusalem now, although I haven't seen a sign announcing the city limits. (Then again, I did dodge away from Highway 1 for a bit when the shoulder vanished. A quick scramble down the side of the wadi brought me to the new road that's under construction.) Anyway! I just walked past the massive cemetery on the westernmost part of the hill and sat down at the nearest available spot to rest and cool my heels. (Yes, literally.)

The name Zeno may not be familiar to many, but the past 24 hours of my life have been an illustration of one of his famous paradoxes. (As I write this, I still have about 4 kms to walk to the hostel I'll be staying at.) Here's the scenario: an archer shoots an arrow at a target. It flies through the air, and after a certain amount of time it has covered exactly half the distance between the archer and the target. After a shorter interval of time, it has travelled half of the remaining distance, and then half of that, and half again, and so on and so on. How is it possible for the arrow to ever actually reach the target? So yeah, that's been my last 24 hours.

The sun has finally set, I've cooled off nicely, and I even have a bit of water left. This evening I'm going to splurge and check myself in to a private room at the hostel, bathe, and then sleep. Tomorrow I plan to attend services, light candles, fulfill promises, and visit the Patriarchate, the Holy Sepulchre, the Wailing Wall‎. Photos will be posted sporadically over the next few days, plus (if I have time) some updates covering the past few days of walking. (The thing is, I am in Jerusalem. I don't want to spend hours hunched over my phone doing all that.)

Bleh. I need to get off my feet for the day, and sitting here typing in the cool dusk isn't going to make that happen. So, "Yay! I made it!!!"‎ I am really looking forward to the shower. Comforted in Jerusalem. 

Last Day of Walking

By 4:00 this morning, I'd had enough. From the time I left the hotel yesterday until I reached the gas station (which was, thankfully, open) I'd walked some 45 kms. The six hour break in the afternoon helped a lot. When I started walkin‎g again in the evening, I was able to maintain my Camino pace of 5 km/h. It is 22.6 km from here to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which means I should arrive around noon. That also means I'll be walking into the heat, but at this point I'm inclined to press on. I'd like to get to church this evening for the Sacrament of Holy Unction, but I don't know what time the service begins. Better to arrive early, get the information, and then relax during the afternoon. And now, I walk!

Apr 7, 2015

Quick Update from the Road

Oh yeah, 6:30 PM is the right time to start walking. There's very little traffic, and it's nice and cool. For the first time since Turkey, walking has felt more like flying. It's another 50 kms to Jerusalem, and if I can keep this pace, I'll be there by 7:00 tomorrow morning.   That's probably not going to happen, but right now I feel great! The next service station my GPS app knows about is almost exactly half way there, so that might make a good place to rest for a few hours.

So near, yet so far!

I'm under 50 kms from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now, but following the road and avoiding the West Bank means I've still got 70 kms to walk. The forecast high for today is 27, and for tomorrow it's 30. There aren't many petrol stations along the way and the highway avoids villages, so there won't be many places I can get water. Water is heavy, which means the more I carry with me, the heavier my load is. (It gets lighter, of course.) Yesterday I ran out of water by early afternoon, so when I refilled, it was with three litres, which was too much for that stage of the day.

My plan for the remainder of the walk is to find a place to sleep during the hottest part of the day, and walk late into the night and during the early morning hours. With my poncho tarp, I can make shade if there's none to be found, but it's much nicer to stretch out under a tree. I probably won't arrive in Jerusalem before Thursday morning, but that will depend on how much ground I can cover after dark.

From here on in, I'll be following the main roads exclusively. Yesterday I encountered two fences that blocked the ‎secondary roads I was trying to follow. In the first case, I got around it by walking part way up the ramp for a parking garage and then hopping over to the roof of an abandoned single storey building. I lowered my pack to the ground using my walking stick and then climbed down the face of the building. (Shoulda taken photos, but I was too distracted at the time.) The second fence actually had a small gap where the gate across the road was chained shut, but I'm still too fat to fit through and I'd have had to unload my pack to pass it through. After taking a break in the shade, I noticed a smaller gate 50 m along the fenceline. Before backtracking two kilometres, I decided to investigate. As I approached I could see the chain and padlock, but the lock was only there to keep the chain around the post so the gate remained shut. This morning I wasn't as lucky. I began with a one hour detour just to get me to the other side of the fence from where I'd begun walking. Frustrating, but c'est la vie.

It's just past noon now, so once I finish this update I'll log out of the café's WiFi and start looking for a good place for my siesta. I am neither a mad dog nor an Englishman.

Apr 5, 2015

Apr 5: Quick Update

‎Happy Easter to those celebrating today!

As the crow flies, I am 76 kms from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The route suggested by my GPS app would have me cutting south east away from the coast today, but I've been advised not to walk through the West Bank.   Tel Aviv is 40 kms from here, and with my early start I hope I'll arrive in time to attend the evening service at the Russian Orthodox Church which is a few kilometres away from the hostel I'm aiming for. (That being said, I have no idea what time the service begins.) If I'm too late for that, I'll have time for a more lengthy update this evening. I'd hoped to reach Jerusalem by Tuesday, but Wednesday seems more likely now.

Apr 4, 2015

Jerusalem bound



I met this cyclist on the ferry to Haifa. By now, Leopold will have completed the third and final stage of his pilgrimage from his home in Austria to Jerusalem. http://flic.kr/p/rE1LYN

The Path Before Me



http://flic.kr/p/rE9HHK

Apr 2, 2015

Angels in Disguise

Once I was cleared by Israeli immigration on Wednesday, I left the port and headed towards the nearest hostel that showed up on my GPS. The Port Inn Hostel‎ was less than a hundred metres away, so that worked out nicely. It's a very popular place, and not just because of its proximity to the port. This is a proper hostel, with all the things a budget traveller (or pilgrim) needs.  There were quite a few Germans staying there, as well as a group of Israeli teens (complete with acoustic guitar), an Australian who had served in the Six Days War, and an elderly Jew from the Netherlands who gave me several helpful tips on what to see and where to stay while in Israel.

Before I turned in for the night, I spent some time at one of the three computer terminals, using Google Maps and ‎a booking site to plan the next day's walk. I found another highly rated hostel in Jisr ez-Zarqa, the only Israeli Arab village on the coast. It's 40 kms from Haifa, so I didn't linger over breakfast Thursday morning. Before leaving Haifa, however, I decided to ascend Mount Carmel and visit the grotto that's identified as Elijah's cave. As with my climb to the Balamand in Lebanon, it wasn't particularly high, but it was a long and steep walk. Along the way I passed the Shrine of Bab, the centre of the Bahai faith. I also passed the primary monastery of the Carmelite order. I amused myself with the idea of going in to learn whether they wear shoes or not. (Church history geeks may chuckle at that, but the rest of you can ignore it and simply keep moving.) According to the tourist map I picked up at the hostel, Elijah's cave is located along the footpath leading from the crest of Mount Carmel down to the coast. I was looking for it, but passed on by without spotting it.

Once down on the coast road, I started to walk in earnest for the first time since arriving in Taşucu over two weeks ago.‎ The weather was beautiful, with a light breeze and a few clouds. Once the main coastal highway split away from Route 4, the traffic was quite light. The bus stops are spaced about 500 m apart, and they all have benches and plenty of shade. It was an ideal day for walking, yet by 3:00 in the afternoon I was ready to pack it in. I'd been careful to stay hydrated, but I still had a headache which was steadily worsening. Just ahead there was a turn for a village. Consulting my GPS app showed nothing but a short lane leading to a road running parallel to my current route, with two roads at either end of it. Looking down the lane when I drew up to it, I could see a small supermarket. If nothing else, I'd buy a cold drink and ask about a place to stay.

Part of my planning last night at the hostel involved comparing the distances logged between Haifa and Jerusalem on two different pilgrimages. Mony and Alberto had walked from Rome to Jerusalem beginning in November 2001. (They did it all on foot - no ferries!) They covered 158 kms along the road in Israel, while Brandon Wilson's 2006 pilgrimage saw him covering 213 kms along the Israel National Trail. Since I'm so close to the end of my journey and the beginning of Holy Week, I've opted for the shorter road route. Since the INT was still a possible route for me up until last night, I had downloaded a list of people along the Trail who are willing to act as hosts to hikers for a minimal fee, or for free. These folks have come to be known as "trail angels."

Megadim is actually quite a pleasant little town, with more to it than I'd expected. One of the unexpected elements was the very sturdy bright yellow gate near the entrance to the village, with a guard post and surveillance cameras. Once I'd bought some refreshments and sat down at a picnic table, I met my own trail angel. He was disguised as an elderly gentlemen who addressed me in Hebrew. When he switched to English, I was delighted to accept his offer of hospitality for the night. I'm not sure how to decline the invitation to join him for the Passover meal tomorrow evening, other than to explain that I'm very honoured but that I am eager to get to Jerusalem for my own feast. We'll have that discussion tomorrow, I suppose.

I only covered 16 kms today in spite of the favourable walking conditions. My goal of Jisr es-Zarqa may have been a bit optimistic after a fortnight of inactivity, but that means tomorrow I'll only have to cover 24 kms. I'm planning to be on the road as soon as I can decently excuse myself in the morning. Coffee would be nice, but perhaps for these last few days I should return to the rhythm of the Camino which saw me walking for an hour or two before stopping for my first meal of the day.


Apr 1, 2015

Israel

Moments after one of the immigration officers brought me coffee and brownies, I was handed my passport and told that I could leave. It's ten past two in the afternoon, so I won't be leaving Haifa today, but at least I am officially in the country now!

Haifa

Four hours after making port, I'm still waiting at immigration. Everyone has been very polite and professional, but my itinerary over the past few months has raised some questions. My advice for anyone contemplating a similar trip is to go from Turkey to Cyprus by ferry, walk to Larnaca, and then catch a flight to Tel Aviv. That would be cheaper and more direct, and would avoid all the hassles involved with the shipping company and Cypriot regulations, not to mention the visit to Lebanon.

Once I have my passport, I'll find a place to stay in Haifa and spend the rest of the day exploring the immediate area. Hopefully there will still be a few hours of daylight by then!

Mar 30, 2015

March 30: Limassol

This morning I'd intended to be up early, visit a few small museums in Larnaca, and then catch the 10:00 bus to Limassol. The intercity bus costs €4 and it's a 90 minute trip, which would have left me a bit of time to explore the city before boarding the ferry for Haifa. 

 So much for my intentions. This morning I slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, uploaded a few more photos, and didn't check out of my furnished flat until shortly after 10:00. Incidentally, while there is no shortage of accommodation in Larnaca (at least in late March), I found a wonderful place which is worth a look for anyone planning a stay here. (Well, maybe not anyone. If you're looking for five star spa recommendations, you're reading the wrong blog.) The €10 per night hostels I stayed at in Bulgaria were fantastic and offered great value for the money, but I think the Petalmo City Apartments is the best place I've stayed in the past six months. It's not the fanciest, but for €20 I got a furnished apartment: WiFi, full kitchen facilities, separate bedroom, bathroom with a tub, and even a washing machine! It's 350 m to the beach, and about 600 m to the church of St Lazarus. My flat didn't have a balcony, but several of the others do. Bookings can be made online, or they can be contacted directly:
Lordou Vyronos Str. No 50 
+357 99 627170 or 
+357 99 923926 
petalmo@cytanet.com.cy 

 I was amused when I discovered that "Lord Byron" intersects with "Gladstone." The British legacy in Cyprus is still very much a reality. My first clue came as soon as I left the terminal at the airport and saw the traffic driving on the left, and when I ordered chips (aka french fries), the malt vinegar was brought to the table as a matter of course. More annoyingly, the power outlets also use the British three-prong system. Although my power adapter can handle it, I had left that plug at home in Canada, not thinking I'd need it. For €2.50, I bought one at a convenience store. I'm unlikely to use it again in Cyprus, but I have a three hour stopover in London on the way home. Could be useful there, I suppose.

Another aspect of the British legacy in Cyprus is the widespread use of English by the Cypriots I've met, more so than anywhere else I've been on this pilgrimage. The accent is a charming mixture of Greek and Oxford, although I've heard American accents on the street. In addition to Greek, I've also heard people speaking Arabic, French, Russian, and languages I couldn't identify, at least one of which originated from the Indian subcontinent. 

This morning I did make it to the small Byzantine Museum beside St Lazarus. Admission was only €1, which was about right for looking at liturgical artifacts dating mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries. The last two of the five rooms contained a collection of icons, and a few of the 16th century works were stunning. (I found the 18th and 19th century pieces to be much less inspiring.) 

Around noon I made my way towards the bus stop at the beachfront promenade. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to exchange currency. I still had some US dollars left from my sojourn in Lebanon, so when I spotted a convenience store that boasted "No Commisions" on their "Great Rates" I headed in to buy some Israeli shekels. As it turns out, they only exchange currencies in one direction. A sudden cloudburst drove me under shelter at a café, where I bought an overpriced coffee and used their WiFi. 

The bus ride to Limassol passed quickly. The last stop was the New Port, where I hopped off. The shipping company doesn't have an office at the port, but it didn't take long to locate. The one email I received from them while I was still in Lebanon included the assertion that "Our sailing is scheduled for every Monday (subject to alterations without notification.)" -- except that this week, the ship sails on Tuesday. I was rather shocked when I learned the price -- €235 is more than double what I paid for the ride from Turkey to Lebanon. They told me that since it's a cargo vessel, insurance for a foot passenger is very high. Perhaps the discrepancy in prices is due to EU regulations which didn't apply for the Turkey-Lebanon route. It would have been much cheaper to fly to Tel Aviv! 

Once I tucked my ticket away, I kept walking towards the city centre on the lookout for a place to spend the night. One woman saw me walking and pulled over to offer me a ride since "the city is very far." I thanked her, but declined. Eventually I found a decent hostel 5 km from the port. The sign advertising free WiFi wasn't taken down when the hostel changed hands, but there are cafés in abundance. I'm to be at the port by 10:00 tomorrow morning. This seems excessively early, as the info on the shipping company's website indicates it's a fifteen hour journey and we arrive in Haifa at 8:00 Wednesday morning. At least I've got a good book to help pass the time. 

And now I'll pay for my coffee and go find some dinner. I probably won't be online again until Wednesday evening, and perhaps not even then. I'm still not sure if I'll take the Israel National Trail through the wilderness or stick to the roads. My GPS track on Wednesday will show anyone who cares to check which way I've gone.

From dust thou art and to dust shalt thou return



One of these sarcophagi was the second grave of St Lazaros. After Christ raised him from the dead, he travelled to Cyprus and is considered to be the first bishop of the island. He served the church for decades before falling asleep. in the ninth century, his relics were transferred to Constantinople, although the local church retained a few. When Constantinople was sacked by the Crusaders in 1204, the relics of St Lazaros were taken to Marseilles. They have since been lost. http://flic.kr/p/rzZsre

St Lazarus, the Friend of Christ



http://flic.kr/p/rPnrsq

Mar 29, 2015

Larnaca

The flight from Beirut to Larnaca was delayed longer than the flight itself lasted, and it was rather late by the time I found a hotel near the cathedral. Then I learned that the change to daylight savings time took effect this weekend, and that Orthros begins at 6:30. I didn't make it to Liturgy this morning, but three of the fifteen TV stations ‎available in my hotel room were broadcasting live from three different churches.

Now that I've had breakfast, it's time to find out about the bus schedule and then see some of the town.

Mar 28, 2015

Brief Transportation Update

My flight to Cyprus is scheduled to take off five hours from... NOW!

I've heard back‎ from Salamis Shipping. There is a weekly ferry from Limassol to Haifa which leaves Monday at 17:00, arriving on Tuesday at 08:00. It's possible to walk the 70 kms in the 40 hours or so I'd have between clearing customs in Larnaca and queueing up for customs in Limassol, but I'll be taking a bus instead.

Once I arrive in Haifa, I'll probably take the Israel National Trail and rely on the network of "trail angels" for accommodation, but I've heard from another pilgrim who just stuck to the main road. That would probably be easier, but maybe not quite as pretty. Or I can always start on the one and switch to the other.

The big news is that I've purchased my return ticket. On April 24 I'll be flying British Airways from Amman (Jordan) to London‎ and then transferring to an Air Canada flight to Toronto.‎ "Home again, home again, jiggety-jig!"‎

Fraternal Greeting



http://flic.kr/p/qTeHAq

An-Nourieh



http://flic.kr/p/rvTZSe

Mar 27, 2015

O Lord of Hosts, Be With Us



The choir at St John of Damascus Institute of Theology is consistently fantastic. Great Compline is a beautiful service, and this hymn is one of my favourites. To hear a brief portion, please click through to the video at:
http://flic.kr/p/rv9xng

Pilgrimage to Pascha

This is the article that will be published in the next issue of النور (The Light), the magazine published by the Orthodox Youth Movement in Lebanon. It repeats many of the themes I've already touched on, but treats them in a more systematic manner.

. . . . . . .


"By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, and by my calling a homeless wanderer of humblest origin, roaming from place to place." 
 
This is the opening sentence of the spiritual classic, "The Way of the Pilgrim." This book has inspired generations of Christians, but this description the pilgrim gives of himself can be found throughout the Scriptures and the history of the Church.  A pilgrim is one who has left home and family and set out in the world, trusting in God to guide and care for him. The first "wanderer on the earth" was Cain, but rather than  accept this role assigned to him by God, he settled in the land of Nod and built a city. Perhaps the first real pilgrim we know of is Abraham, who was called by God and told, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you."  (Genesis 12:1) 
 
God's promise to establish Abraham and make of him a great nation was partially fulfilled when the ancient Israelites settled in the Holy Land, but the righteous ones of the Mosaic covenant "all died in faith, not having received the promises and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."  (Hebrews 11:13)  It is in the Church, the Body of Christ, that the promises of God find their fulfilment.  St. Peter described the Church as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."  (1 Peter 2:9) 
 
The life of a Christian is a journey from the darkness of sin into the light of Christ. Our obligation is to be pilgrims and strangers to the world and to abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11), but many Christians have also undertaken physical pilgrimages, travelling to monasteries or holy sites such as Rome or Jerusalem.  In my case, I left my home in Canada in October and have been travelling towards Jerusalem since then with the goal of celebrating the Resurrection of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 
 
Along the way, I have met many wonderful and generous people. A common question I've been asked is, "Why walk?" It would certainly be easier to use modern transportation to get to my destination, and when the costs of daily food and lodging are factored in, this would also be cheaper. Walking thousands of kilometres in winter looks like a foolish exercise, but the way a person travels is almost as important as the goal.  Travelling at the pace of 4 km/h has allowed me the time to slow down, to disengage from the frenetic pace of modern life with all its distractions, to think, and to pray.  My walking pilgrimage has been a time of preparation, of hardship, and of joy. 
 
Most people are not able to leave their homes, their families, and their responsibilities for six months and travel great distances, but the Church has provided a way for everyone to participate in the pilgrimage towards Pascha. In the introduction of Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book "Great Lent: Journey to Pascha" he writes, 
  
"Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts." It is the preparation for the "fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation." [....]  A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the "bright sadness" of Lent, we see - far, far away - the destination. It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter, that makes Lent's sadness bright and our lenten effort a "spiritual spring." The night may be dark and long, but all along the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon."
 
If travelling by foot helps pilgrims to prepare for arriving at their destinations, there are similar preparations that can help those who remain at home as they journey towards the Resurrection.  Participation in the life of the Church through the Sacraments, the cycle of feasts and fasts, and loving service to others prepares the faithful to share in the joy of our risen Lord. For Christian pilgrims, how we make our way to the destination is important, but St John Chrysostom reminds us that it is the τέλος, the "end" or "goal," which is primary. We are all invited to participate in the Resurrection of our Lord -- the joy of Pascha in this life is a foretaste of the glory which awaits us in the next.

"Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!"

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!


Fountain



http://flic.kr/p/rv2NE4

Inner Court



This mediaeval Ottoman castle is undergoing restoration and is closed to the public. The only person on site unlocked the gate for me and left me free to explore the 20,000 square metre enclosure unsupervised. :) http://flic.kr/p/qSjtkh

The Mermaid



http://flic.kr/p/rM1HZN

Food, Friends, and Ferryboats

It's hard to believe I've been in Lebanon for a week already, harder still to think of leaving on Saturday. I've got an evening flight to Cyprus bought and paid for, though, so I'll be gone all too soon.

What have I been doing in Lebanon?  I've spent time catching up on the past nine years with an old friend, and getting acquainted with his three children. I wrote a short article on pilgrimage for a diocesan publication, which my friend then translated into Arabic.  I've been to church every day except for the day I arrived, and I'd have made it to the service that evening if I had walked instead of flagging a cab. A few days ago I went shopping and replaced my shoes. The duct tape repair job not only looked funny, it probably wouldn't have survived long on the rough trail that is waiting for me in the Holy Land. After 2000 kms, they have certainly been a good investment! I'll wait to discard them just in case my new shoes give me blisters.  And, as I've mentioned previously, I've been eating a lot and walking very little.

One of the advantages of being in a country with a long tradition of Orthodox Christianity is that there is no difficulty finding good wholesome food during fasting periods. After months of processed food, I am finally eating my veggies. And legumes, and fresh fruit, and of course, hummus and khibz.  The Feast of the Annunciation is a national holiday in Lebanon, so after Liturgy on Wednesday we feasted on fish, fish, and more fish. I had decided to keep fish in my diet for the Nativity Fast while walking in Italy, but I've been trying to keep a stricter fast for Great Lent. (That's probably one of the reasons I found the walk along the Mediterranean coast in Turkey so challenging, even with dairy.)

It's not only the Lebanese who have been wining and dining me. On Thursday, I finally paid a visit to my old stomping grounds at the St John of Damascus Institute of Theology and the University of Balamand. The bus ride north took an hour and twenty minutes and cost the equivalent of US $2. (The ride back south later that night took fifty minutes. Traffic congestion isn't an exclusively North American problem.) I had a chance to see Fr. Bassam, who had been a fellow parishioner in Canada before he returned to Lebanon. I also spent several delightful hours as the guest of Philip and Joanna. They are British expats who had begun teaching at the university the year I was in Lebanon, and thanks to Flickr I have maintained contact with them. When Philip brought me home after Great Compline, Joanna set a place for me at the table. I was genuinely surprised when I realised how late it was At the end of the evening. They gave me a ride down to the highway and waited with me until a bus arrived.  (The name Balamand is likely a corruption of "belle mont," which is what Frankish crusaders dubbed the hill. At 330 m, it's not particularly tall, but it is a very stiff climb up from sea level. I was glad to be spared the walk down in the dark.)

I'm still not sure how I'll be getting from Cyprus to Israel. The two ferry companies that sail out of the port of Limassol haven't updated their websites in quite some time. One of them indicates that service to Haifa ended in 2006, while it looks like the other doesn't start operating passenger ferries until May. I've emailed both companies, and am awaiting a reply. (One of them forwarded my mail to another company, so there's still some hope.)  I'm hoping to get a ferry to Haifa, and then follow the Israel National Trail south to Jerusalem.  It would be nice to get away from road walking for the last week of my pilgrimage, and with that in mind I bought a 2 litre water pouch to supplement my water bottle. One disadvantage of hiking trails is that they tend not to have shops selling cold drinks along the way.

Another possibility for travelling to Israel is a ferry to Ashdod.  The city looks to be about 30 kms from Jerusalem, which means I'd be arriving a week earlier than I'd planned unless I do what a few others have done and catch a bus north to Haifa and begin walking from there. While I've cut about a thousand kilometres from my walk by bus and train, it is counterintuitive to go out of my way just to follow a particular route. Still, I've got these nice new hiking shoes, so I may do just that.

The simplest way forward would be to fly from Larnaca (Cyprus) to Tel Aviv and then walk to Jerusalem from there. That would mean I wouldn't have any walking in Cyprus (the sea port is about 70 kms from the airport), but at least I'd experience some of the Israel National Trail without making an unnecessary detour by bus. It would also mean I wouldn't miss any of Holy Week. If I haven't heard from a ferry company by Sunday, this is likely what I'll do.