Traveling By Amtrak

017Friday, July 21, 2017 is the happily anticipated day for the beginning of our trip to Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish is the chosen destination for my annual anesthesia conference this year. The plan is to combine my husband’s love of trains with our need to travel there by boarding the only long-distance passenger train service left in the US, Amtrak. Since Amtrak goes right through Whitefish, this will work splendidly for us.020

Hubby and I arrive at our daughter’s house in Chatfield by 5:45pm. She will deliver us to the depot so that our car does not sit there unattended for nine days. We are on the road and headed towards Winona by 6pm. The heavy rain from the day has stopped and the sun is peaking out. The train is to arrive by 7:47pm. We hear the whistle in the distance and it comes chugging around the corner right on time. Hugs are shared and we turn to search for our assigned train car. Car number 730 is midway along the towering berths awaiting us. We board and trudge up the narrow staircase to the upper floor of a sleeper car. In the small space, two seats face each other. It is a very compact space with little extra room for storage. One suitcase fits nicely under the seat but our big suitcase begs to be stored downstairs in the main luggage area.024

We are told that our supper is at 8:30pm and will be announced when they are ready to seat us. An announcement is made around that time but the speaker does not seem to work in our room and we cannot understand what is being said.  By 8:40, we decide to check out the dining car which conveniently is located right next to our sleeping berth. We have almost missed supper as we are the last ones to be seated. I am not very hungry anyway as I was not expecting to get food this late on the train. Because of this, we ate before we left home. It is just as well as it takes forever to have our order taken and then another forever until the food comes. I look at my order of tortillas and say, “That is not what I ordered.”

“I’m sorry,” the waitress responds, “I will get you the right order.” By now it is 9:30pm and I am not much interested in food any more. I am more concerned about the effect of trying to sleep with a full stomach. Just to be polite, we wait until the food comes, take a few bites, and head back to our small home. While we wait for our car attendant to come and make up our beds, our attention is drawn towards the fireworks exploding above the skyline just outside our window at our St. Paul stop.

Making up our beds involves pulling down the upper bunk which is two feet wide and six feet long. Hubby gets the bottom bunk which is just a little longer and three feet wide. There is little room for anything once this is done except going to sleep. I climb the little steps to the top bunk and shimmy onto the bunk. There is no room for sitting up and I am cold. Thankfully, we have both been provided with two pillows and two blankets. This is not like my bed at home but is quite comfortable compared to the sleeping in the seat option. We have been told to sleep with our heads toward the back of the train in case of an emergency stop so our feet take the brunt and not our all-important heads. It is a little like trying to sleep in a hammock – gentle swaying and rocking. If I was a child, it would rock me to sleep but I am an old woman who needs everything quiet and still to sleep. At one point, I hear rain pounding against the side of the train as we travel through MN and I wonder if we are in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. We both get up to the bathroom around 2 am and then I lose some time in my brain so I must sleep some. This is the ideal way to travel. It is quite relaxing – no paying attention to driving-  eating in a restaurant, sleeping in a bed, and reading while all the while hurtling towards our destination.

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Grain Elevator in Montana

The sun is shining when I open my eyes again. I peer at my watch and conclude that it is 7:30 am. As we both are getting our shoes on, the 6:30am announcement for breakfast comes over the intercom. Oh dear, I guess I looked at my watch wrong. Well, we are up so we might as well head for breakfast. I pull the call button before we head for the dining room to have the car attendant take down our bunks. My order of hot chocolate turns out to be orange juice but once that is straightened out, the French toast is quite tasty. This waitress needs a different system for keeping track of orders but overall the food is scrumptious.

We return to our room an hour later to find our bunks still not taken care of. “Would you mind doing ours next?” I ask the attendant.

“I turned off the call button because you said you were not ready to have me do it yet,” is her response.

That’s strange. I don’t remember even seeing the attendant this morning. “We never talked to you this morning,” we respond.

“I thought sure it was you. You must think I am terribly confused,” is her comeback.

Confused yes, but not a big deal. After all, this is an adventure.

Our next trek is back through the dining car and three more coaches to the observation car while our room is being prepared for the day. The North Dakota landscape speckled with herds of beef cattle flashes by. When we return, our room is ready for us to spend a relaxing morning reading and watching the landscape streak by, with occasionally interspersed walks through the train and outside at the 30-minute stop at Minot, ND.

Before we know it, lunch is being served. We are paired with a couple from Iowa who is taking 21 young people on a mission trip to an Indian reservation near Glacier National Park. One meets lots of people with interesting lives at meal time. And this time, lunch orders go off without a hitch.

The rest of the afternoon drags as miles and miles of flat Big Sky Montana wheat fields and barren lands fly by. I take a nap which kills a little time. Soon it is time for supper. We choose the 5:30 pm time slot due to fear of not getting done in time to get off the train at 8:47pm when we are due in. This meal, we are paired with another couple from our sleeper car who reside in Florida. They have many travel adventures to share.

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Piled wheat at an elevator

Before long, we start to notice the mountains rising on the horizon to the west. Then there are stops at East Glacier, Essex, and West Glacier. The sun is casting long shadows over the mountains as we crawl along the mountain side. At times, one can look out and straight down into the valley and the river below. We finally approach Whitefish and grind to a halt. “We are waiting for a train that is in the way to pass through before we can pull into the station,” the train engineer informs us. We have collected our baggage and impatiently wait by the door as the opposing train clatters by going the opposite direction. And then we slowly roll into the station. My body moves in rhythmic swaying as I stand on the curb waiting for the hotel van to pick us up. 26 hours of swaying back and forth has left its mark and that sweet soft bed in the hotel room looks so inviting.

Our week in Montana exploring Glacier passes far too quickly and before I know it, it is time to think about heading home. I keep waking up during the night because I am afraid the alarm won’t go off. I finally roll out of bed at 5:50 am. The air is crisply cool as we walk to our rental car. The valet man tells us that the train is only five minutes late. The first order of business is to top off our rental car gas tank and drop off the car at the train station.

We settle in the waiting room but soon notice a long BSNF train is parked on the main track at the Whitefish station. He, obviously, needs to move before we can board a passenger train. Restlessness sets in as the minutes stretch endlessly into time and we move outdoors to the platform. Maybe, we think that standing outside will make the situation unfold faster. It is a beautiful, though cool morning to stand on the platform and wait. The posted arrival time comes and goes and still the freight train does not move. Eventually, a train employee walks back along the train and jumps up between each car to adjust something. Finally, forty minutes late, the freight train releases the brakes and slowly pulls away. I hear my cell phone chime. Who would be texting me? Ah, it is Amtrak letting us know the train is behind schedule and will be arriving at 8:03. I think I already figured out it is late and it had better hurry if it is going to be here in three minutes as it is already 8 am. Pretty soon, we see the headlight come around the curve. Maybe there is still hope.858

Figuring out which car is ours becomes the problem. We finally find a conductor who says,” Car 830 is the last one on the train.” We trudge through the mass of humanity going in the opposite direction. No one is at the door. Do we enter? Do we not? We finally get on. “Go immediately to the dining car if you would like breakfast.” We walk and we walk. Since we truly are in the last car of the train, it is quite a long journey to the dining car. Time to walk off some calories.

After breakfast, it is time to go back to our sleeper car. No one has scanned our ticket. We could be getting a free ride for all they know or so I think. They never do scan our ticket but when we mention this to the car attendant, he says, “You are in the system so I know you are here.” Ah, big brother is always watching.

We continue to be an hour behind throughout the day.  We spend the day enjoying the scenery. There are endless fields of wheat being harvested. I read until I finish my book, then catch up on my writing, and finally, I go searching for my computer cord in the suitcase downstairs so that I can read a kindle book from the computer. Of course, the computer locks up for a couple of hours as it thinks it needs to download and update systems which it cannot do without an internet access. In frustration, I finally am able to break its cycle by turning it off several times in a row.

We do not cross the border into North Dakota until supper time. This creates a quandary as the time zone also changes at the border. Do we go to supper on Mountain Time or Central time? We have a 6:45 pm supper reservation. Finally, we ask the car attendant. “Go to supper on Mountain Time,” he says. That means we are really eating at 7:45 pm central time. That is a little later than I would like but there is not much we can do about it. Both of us decide to have the steak topped off with a desert.

I know that this is a mistake as soon as we get back to our car. I am hoping for a few hours after supper before bedding down for the night but it is already going towards 9 pm and the attendant has a goal of all the beds being made up by ten. I have delusions that I can sit and read in the top bunk but there is no space for such an endeavor. Getting into the bunk almost causes me to have a panic attack as the car is reversed from the trip out. This means I need to try to slide my feet in from the head end and scoot down. That wouldn’t be so bad except that there is no head room.  I finally master this feat of gymnastics and decide now that I am in, I should just stay put. I wonder how the really old people manage on a top bunk. I am slightly nauseated from needing to lay down so soon after eating, but I do drift into a lullaby sleep, being rocked back and forth by the motion of the train. I had decided that I would not even try to get up during the night to go to the bathroom but by 3 am, that resolution needs to go out the window. I have realized that if I take down the strapping that keeps one from rolling out, I can actually get my legs out. The trick is to hit the steps without crashing first as there are no grab bars or any surfaces to grab onto for support. Considering the circumstances, the sleeper at night does offer better sleep than a coach seat would have.

 

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Lake Pepin – along the Mississippi

Sunday morning greets us with bright sun at 6 am. We decide to roll out at 7. The thought of traipsing the length of the train to the dining car to make reservations, then traipsing back to wait for our call (which we can’t hear in our car anyway), then making a third trip to actually get our breakfast is overwhelming this morning. Instead, we opt to go downstairs in the dome car for some yogurt, donut holes, and orange juice. We have some nuts and a granola bar in our sleeper. That will have to do until we get off. The train pulls into St Paul right on time so it looks like we will make our 10:11 scheduled arrival time in Winona in spite of being an hour late all day yesterday. We are more than ready to step onto the little step that leads to the sidewalk to be greeted by our daughter. Ah, there is no place like home.

 

 

 

January Ice Storm

123“A major ice storm is moving across the Midwest,” the weather forecaster pronounces during the Sunday evening weather report.

I groan inwardly and outwardly. “Not again. I hope it stays south of us. Maybe they will be wrong this time,” I lament to my husband before we head for bed. Just in case he is not wrong, I gather a small bag of personal toiletries and clothes to take along to work in case I get stuck in town tomorrow.

The waning moon still lights the western sky as I cruise down the driveway headed for work in the morning. Hope that the weatherman is wrong springs up again. I shudder to think about if he is right. Our driveway will be a perfectly prepared skating rink with the winter snow pack and ice already currently on it.

“How is the weather outdoors,” I inquire of OR staff as they come in for later shifts.

“Not bad,” is the response, “It’s just raining some.”074

By the time I am relieved early at 6:30 p.m., I make the decision to drive home. No one seems too worried and my employer has not called a “weather emergency” so any hotel room would not be paid for. Huge steady drops of rain pound the pavement as I drive out of the parking ramp. This is not what is supposed to happen in January. I glance at my car’s outdoor thermometer. “34 degrees,” it declares – just above the freezing mark. As I creep out of town, frozen slush on the payment hails me. Any touch of the brakes rewards me with a flashing “dynamics control system activated” light on the dashboard and a sliding of tires on the pavement. This is going to be a two-hands-on-the-wheel 30 mile per hour drive.

I press “2” on my phone to call my hubby and alert him that I am coming home.

“No, you’re not,” he says, “I slid down the hill sideways on the gravel road and then got stuck in the driveway.”

“Well, I am on my way, so I will see what is like when I get there and decide what to do,” I inform him.

This will be interesting. I toss different scenarios around in my head. Should I park in the field drive and try to walk home? Should I go to the neighbors and ask for a 4-wheeler ride home? Or maybe I can slide down the hill on the gravel road and at least, park in the driveway. But I need to go to work tomorrow again so that doesn’t seem like a wise choice.

The Subaru high beams reflect off the shiny sparkling surface as I park at the top of the hill and gingerly step out of the car. Cold water cascades from the sky. I slide my shoe around on the smoothness testing its potential to send my feet in different directions. Hanging on to the car for stability, I slip back in and decide to park it right there by the side of the road under the stop sign. I pray that no one hits it and that it will still be there in the morning. I turn the ignition off and pull the key. I am thrown into pitch black darkness as I sit and try to gather up my courage to set out on foot. I don’t even have any boots.011

It looks like there is some grass sticking out of the ice along the side of the road. I will make that my path down the hill. Water soon trickles down my glasses and drips off my nose as I carefully set one foot ahead of the other as I feel for the side of the snow pack in the blackness. Breaking a leg out here alone seems like an outcome I should attempt to avoid. Once I have safely reached the beginning of the driveway, I transition to stomping through the two-foot-high snowbank along the drive as I trudge uphill, puffing away towards that warm glow of home. This is a nice ¼ mile walk in the sunshine but a daunting trek in these conditions. Just as I open the garage door, my feet attempt to escape from under me. Just what I need to do – fall down at the last moment. In the bright sweet light of home, I hang my drenched coat and set my shoes by the heat register. Time for a sleep in my warm toasty bed. At least, no plow truck is needed for this kind of precipitation.

I start out early on my walk to the car in the morning. The rain has stopped and a light coating of snow covers the ice. I walk down the middle of the drive as if the previous evening was only a dream.046

The Final Day – Traveling Home

11-17-2016 Thursday

Today is our last day in Israel. It is chilly and only partly sunny. Our first stop today is at an archaeological dig site to shift through debris from the temple mount. The temple is occupied by the Muslims and apparently, they decided to expand their mosque without contacting the antiquities authority as required. Truckloads of artifacts and debris were hauled away in the night and dumped on the Mount of Olives.

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Lecture with Directions

Sifting through buckets of stones is not really my cup of tea but we are here so participate we do. We are assigned to a sieve kind of thing in groups of four. Son-in-law, Daughter, Hubby, and I are a group. We are to dump a bucket of the debris on our wire sieve, wash it with a garden hose and then sort through it. Things that we find that are old metal, pottery, mosaic, glass, bone, or unusual stones are to be picked out and put into a muffin tin. The whole mess looks like regular old stones to me and what little interest I had is soon gone. Hubby sticks with it.

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Sifting rocks

Picking up pretty stones is more his thing. Other groups have some success with finding valuable items. Our picking is mostly a failure.

We board the buses again about 10:30 to make our way to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It is a somber experience as we remember the many lives lost through the cruelty of the Germans. The sad reality is that world leaders are now trying to tell people that it never happened. I cannot understand this phenomenon – how educated people can deny this tragedy. It is also unfathomable to me how men can be so depraved and heartless on one hand and on the other, there were those who risked their own lives and futures to save as many Jews as possible. What I am most shocked by is that Christians in the early centuries after Christ returned to heaven (200-400AD), considered the Jews subhuman and persecuted them for not accepting Christ as the Messiah. We eat our noon meal at the Holocaust Museum then relax for some time standing in the sun until everyone is ready to go.

Our last stop of the day is in the garden which contains one of the places believed to possibly be the burial site of Jesus. Our tour guide is a Swedish gentleman who talks to us about the garden and about Jesus sacrifice for us on the cross. As he is explaining about the Hill of the Scull

where Jesus was crucified, a booming loud speaker blares out the Muslim call to prayer. It is so loud we cannot talk above it and need to wait for the call to be over. Often, we are told, the Muslims call their people to prayer more than the 5 times required by their law just to interfere with the Christian activities such as this. Trying to protest or stop this kind of behavior would result in WW III so the behavior is quietly tolerated.

We make our way to the garden tomb and each one of us gets a chance to take a look into the empty tomb. Then we gather together on some benches to sing hymns and worship. Pastor Mark brings us a short message and then communion is shared together. The communion cups are made of olive wood and we can keep them as a remembrance. The wind has started to pick up and it is quite chilly as we sit there. It is 4 pm by the time we wrap up the service and head back to the bus and the hotel.

Several people, including Daughter and son-in-law, want to get off at the Jaffa Gate to do some last minute shopping so the bus makes a drop off stop there. The rest of us go back to the hotel to rest until the 6:30 drop off time for taking our suitcases to the bus. Then it is time for the last supper. A gourmet meal it is.

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Bus 2 Group Photo

We board the buses at 8:30 pm for our trip to the airport where we say Good-bye to our bus driver, Shalom, and our guide, Eli. Our excursion through the airport turns out to be a stressful challenge. We are first told to get our boarding passes at the many kiosks designed for such purposes. Brother, his wife, Hubby, and I are successful at doing so. However, by that time, we realize that all the other 100 some have been told to just get into line and we are left at the end of the line. Son-in-law and Daughter have left us in the dust. They are far ahead at the front of the line. I keep thinking having our boarding passes and luggage already checked should allow us to bypass some of this line but it does not seem so. My stomach muscles are getting tighter and tighter as this line progresses with the speed of a turtle. I keep looking at my watch and thinking that we are going to end up missing the plane. As we are all standing in line, we find out that El Al Airlines have overbooked the flight by at least 15 – 20 people and they are asking members of our group to stay. Apparently, the pilots have also been on strike since Sunday which we knew nothing about. Just last evening, all flights were canceled.

The clock has ticked away an hour and a half before we finally reach the first security point where they compare our passport with our face and ask numerous questions. This one we zip through. Then we are told to get into the line for checking our bags in.

“Can we check our bags in somewhere faster?” I ask “since we already have luggage tags.”

Of course the answer is, “No, you need to get in that line.” As the man points to the line that snakes around 3 rows of slowly crawling snails. I am starting to feel somewhat panicked as we wait again for 30 minutes. Finally, we head for the next stop which is the physical security checkpoint where we need to go through the metal detector. We are allowed to keep our shoes on which makes this line move at incredible speed. As we leave the metal detector, I look around for the signs pointing to the D concourse. I see nothing like that. Confusedly, I lead my pack of four around in circles. Finally, I decide to ask. The TSA agent I ask is visibly irritated by this ignorant idiot, “You have to go through passport verification first,” she snaps. I have no idea what that means but head towards a line marked “foreign passports.” Another official looking lady waves toward some strange machines on the wall,” You can use those automatic ones over there.”

OK, I have no idea what to do with those things but I wander over and read the directions which say, “Put passport under scanner.” Amazingly, it likes my approach and prints me a little ticket. Feeling confident that we are now on our way, I tuck everything away and we are funneled through 1 small opening towards the boarding area.  No wonder I could not see it before. We have not gone more than 20 feet and we come to more machines that indicate we need to scan our pink card to get through. “Pink card? I don’t have a pink card.” Then I realize this must mean the little slip of paper we just got. It has a faint ting of pink across the top. Finally, we reach the boarding area. Are there any more hoops to jump through I wonder? We have about a ½ hour wait before boarding the plane. They make an announcement that any liquids we have bought cannot be brought on the plane and that they will be going through our carry-on bags looking for liquids. You can’t be serious! Again? This line moves quickly as the search is not terribly thorough. The last straw awaits me on the plane. We realize Hubby and I do not have exit seats as I paid for and we are stuffed into the middle of the plane with someone between us. I make myself at home in the middle seat regardless. It makes no sense for someone to want to sit between us. When that person finally arrives, she is fine with our arrangement as it will put her husband just across the aisle from her. In all the confusion of the Airline’s overbooking and moving people around, we are left to stuff ourselves in the regular seats for 12 hours and the money I paid extra for exit seats has been swallowed up in the mess.

Other than being unable to breathe or move properly for 12 hours, all goes well with our flight. We land in Newark, NJ 45 minutes late but safe and sound back in the US. Our connecting flight to Minneapolis is uneventful. We break through the heavy clouds into light rain. By the time we retrieve our bags, it has started to snow heavily. Welcome to winter in Minnesota.

This time the hare beat the tortoise as we get home before my brother and his wife who drove home from the Newark airport.1313

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – Part 4

11-16-2016 Wednesday

 

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Sunset over the desert

Clouds darken the sky today for the first time since we have arrived here. The temperature is chilly and I surrender my belief that it is still summer by putting on a sweater. We are on the bus by 8 am and headed for Masada.

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Bedouin sheep

The drive south along the Dead Sea is beautiful in its own way. We pass areas of what they call “desert farming.” They drip irrigate using the sewage water from Jerusalem to save water.

As we go further south, the land becomes more barren with huge hills of wasteland to the west. Masada is the ruins of an ancient city built upon the top of a 1000-foot-high flat top hill. King Herod, the Great, first built one of his fortresses high on this hill. Later, it became a place for the Jews to flee for refuge around 70 AD when they were defeated by the Romans in a crushed uprising. After 3 years of refuge, the Romans are able to breach the hill and all the rebels there die. It is an awesome sight to look up at this hill high above our heads as we drive into the parking lot. If one were young and ambitious, he could hike up the Snake Trail to the top of Masada. None of us are either of these, so we board a cable car/Tram to be hoisted to the top. We are told it holds 80 people and they are serious about this as they jam pack us into the car. I am starting to feel the rising panic of claustrophobia when I find I can’t move.

It is a beautiful day here – not too hot and not too cold. We spend about an hour and a half at Masada exploring the ruins and viewing some of the great inventions of Herold the Great. Probably the most remarkable invention is the water collection and storage system.

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Israeli flag over Masada

The one or two huge rains per year are the only source of water. As we stand listening to the tour guide, I hear a clatter of something on the stone. It is Hubby’s glasses lens. He has lost the screw to hold the frame together. We brainstorm as to how to fix this but can do nothing about it at the moment.

Around 12 noon, we head back down on the cable car and board the bus for the Qumran Caves Museum. This is where we will eat lunch. It is the usual chaotic scene getting through the lunch line. We see a group of Mennonites who instantly make contact with Brother and his wife. That is how it is with Mennonites. They recognize each other anywhere and feel a bond. We exit through the gift shop to wait for our tour guide. I notice a bunch of sunglasses and we decide to buy a pair in the hopes that we can use one of the screws to repair Hubby’s glasses. Getting through the checkout line is a bit of a challenge as people are everywhere and buying the skin care products manufactured from the Dead Sea. I finally am able to get outside into the crush of people there. Our guide today, Bruce, finally is able to get us away from the masses to explain the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We make a short tour of the Essene ruins and then head back to the bus.

Our last stop is the beach of the Dead Sea.

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Dead Sea

I do not plan to float but simply to wade. The Dead Sea is 33% salt so the water is toxic if taken orally or gotten in the eyes. We receive our towels and make our way gingerly down the steep hill that once was the banks of the Dead Sea. The use of the minerals and water from the lake for commercial purposes has caused the shores of the Dead Sea to recede several hundred feet over the last 40 years. The mud is a dark gray color. I step gingerly into the water. As I move one foot ahead of the other, it drops over the edge into a hole. After several attempts, I decide to move to a different location and am able to enter the water. As I stand there watching others smear black mud all over themselves, a man holding a cell phone steps into the water in the place I formerly tried.

His leg disappears into a hole and down he goes, cell phone and all. Now why would someone take their cell phone along into a salt bath? Is my question. After wading about for approximately 15 minutes and getting splashed by others falling down, I decide it is time to get out before I end up totally wet. After washing off my feet, Hubby and I find some ice cream to enjoy at a small picnic table under a spreading tree. Hundreds of chirping birds seem to be perched in its branches. I am just about done when I feel a wet drop on my forehead from above. Gross! A bird has just pooped on my head. It is time to move on back to the bus.1226

We are back at the hotel by 5:45pm and catch up with Daughter and Son-in-law who did not accompany us today but decided to wander around by themselves and relax. I spy the pipe cleaner on our suitcase and use it for the repair so badly needed on Hubby’s glasses after we can’t get the screw out of the new sunglasses we bought. It works. Only one more day before it is time to head home again.

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus Part 3

11-14-2016 Monday

 

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Overlooking Jerusalem from Mt Scopus

Today hands us another beautiful sunny morning to greet us. We are on the bus and heading for Mount Scopus by 8 am. Here we spend a few minutes having photos taken of our bus and of the whole group. Winding through the narrow, hilly streets of Jerusalem is quite the experience. Buses sometimes miss each other by inches. This morning, because we are going to Bethlehem into Palestinian territory, we have been asked to bring our passports and we need to exchange our Jewish guide for a Palestinian one. Israeli citizens are not allowed to cross into Palestine. A change in plans is made because of the number of people and the times of mass at the Church of the Nativity and we are taken first to a shop in Bethlehem where Arab Christians make beautiful decorations using olive wood. I wander around the shop and am somewhat disillusioned by the prices. There are some beautiful praying hands with the last supper carved on the palms. It is almost $3000. Well skip that. We finally settle for a small camel, a shepherd, and a sheep for $85.

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Machine making multiple olive wood figurines at once

A short trip to the basement workshop finishes out the visit to this shop. We are informed that our bus has a water leak and we will need to divide out onto the other two buses to make the trip to the Church of the Nativity. We feel like foreigners on this other bus. We need to walk awhile after exiting the bus. The walking trip feels chaotic with all the people on the street. “Use your horn liberally” seems to be the expectation of the day especially when the American tourists are in the way. Masses of people resulting in long lines are at the church. The church is under re-construction so leaves something to be desired for picture taking. We do not have too long of a wait to get into the cave with the Star of Bethlehem and the areas where baby Jesus was laid. I am saddened by the shrines built to commemorate everything. I just want to see the simple cave in which Christ was born.

We attempt to get back on the same temporary bus after we leave the church but we must be confused as Hubby can’t find his camera bag and the lady in the seat that we think is ours, thinks we are deranged. We finally get on the right bus and are headed for Shepherd’s Field which is a preserved site showing what the cave might have looked like that the shepherds lived in and the field where the angels proclaimed that good news of Jesus birth to the shepherds.

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Inside shepherds cave

We all gather in the cave for a reading from the Bible about the angels coming to the shepherds and we sing Joy to the World together. By now, I am getting extremely hungry and irritated due to a lack of bathroom stops. I am going to the bathroom whether we have time or not. Our bus is repaired by the time we are done at Shepherd’s field and it is back to the correct #2 bus. This feels right and comfortable.

Lunch is at a kibbutz that now caters to guests because the city has surrounded them and taken their fields. It is the same mass confusion getting through the lunch line but we finally do it. We keep losing either Brother and his wife or Daughter and Son-in-law in our lunch lines’ confusion. Our next stop is the upper room where Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples. It is not the actual room which has been destroyed and rebuilt but the actual place. This room is also believed to possibly be the place where the disciples waited and received the Holy spirit at Pentecost.

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View from Caiaphas house toward Jerusalem

Hiking through the upper room, then up the steps to Caiaphas’ house gives one the general idea of the distance and site of these important events in the Bible. Our last stop is to see the dungeon or prison cell where Jesus might have been imprisoned and tortured the night before his crucifixion. This is something I have never thought about before. We sing an old hymn here.  As we walk up the hill to the buses, it has grown dark and a huge moon is just rising over the horizon. It is supposed to be a super moon, the biggest one since Israel became a nation in 1948.

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Moonrise over Jerusalem

11-15-2016  Tuesday

The day is a little cooler today. Breakfast is the usual time of 6 am and we are on the bus by 7:45 am. We are headed today to explore the old city of Jerusalem. Our first stop of the day is to view a 15 minute 3-D film of the history of Jerusalem. We emerge into the bright sunlight and sit on a bench while Eli, our guide, talks to us. Eli is an entertaining and informative guy for a guide. He in mild -mannered and always has a joke to share or is laughing at himself for his own foibles.

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Eli’s cap “I am their leader – which way did they go”

Maneuvering steps going down to an archaeological dig of David’s Palace is the next order of business. We then make our way through the City of David and enter the old aqueduct system of many years ago that has been re-excavated. It is 2 foot wide by approximately 5’ 10” high. It is bordered on both sides by stone walls. We file through the tunnel single file. I am somewhat claustrophobic and have to keep telling myself I am fine. At one place the tunnel is so narrow, Hubby has to go through sideways.

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Narrow passage

We squirm our way through what seems like hours of walking until we come out under the newer excavated western wall and emerge again into the light. After some more education, we circle up around above the Western Wailing wall and come in through the metal detectors. The Western Wall is all that remains of the temple and visiting it brings the visitor as close as possible to the Holy of Holies. Men and women go through the metal detectors separately and then are expected to visit the wailing wall separately. I point out to my brother that the Western wall section for men is longer than for the women even though the women’s side is packed. Brother points out that the men have podiums to stand at and the women have chairs to sit on.

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Western Wall – Men’s side

In other words, “the men are to preach and the women are to be quiet.” We both laugh. This is reference to the beliefs of our upbringing.  I do not wish to leave a prayer on the wall as I believe God hears me equally from wherever I pray. However, we do make our way to the wall and touch it. I feel no zing, no electric shock, no special revelation from heaven.

We leave the western wall and walk through the Jewish quarter and into the Armenian quarter for lunch at an Armenian restaurant. We have a relaxed hour and then it is back out to walk through the various quarters of the old city. We stop at the pools of Bethesda. Our last order of the day is to walk the stations of the cross or the Via Dolorosa. I think the most touching part of the afternoon is acapella singing in the chapel of the only church left from the era of the crusades.

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Singing

A lady who grew up Mennonite leads us in the traditional way of singing Amazing Grace and It is well with my soul. Wow, how I miss that singing and those old hymns.

We continue our trek along the “Way of Sorrow” through the narrow over-crowded streets. The weather has turned and a cool chill breeze has sprung up. It is growing dark by the time we leave. The bus in not waiting as we are told it will be and we spend at least ½ hour wondering if we are going to be picked up. One last stop of the day is at a shop for us to shop. I see nothing new and/or that I can afford. They have swapped buses again because ours is needed for a trip to the airport. We get on the wrong bus before we decide that this doesn’t make sense and get back off.  (to be continued)

 

 

Travel Day – Trip to Florida 2016

187              With anticipation, we roll out of bed at 3:30 a.m. on this Wednesday, January 13. The goal is to leave the house by 4 a.m. The thermometer declares the temperature to be 9 degrees below zero on this fine Minnesota day. I think it is a great day to head for Florida. My hubby is the one having trouble getting ready in ½ an hour today and I am the one chomping at the bit to leave. As we are motoring down County Rd 2, I ask, “Did you take your pills this morning?” Soon, we are turning around and heading back to the house. I do not have any extra pills along. They are counted out to the exact number. I bite my tongue and soon we are on our way again. The airport is just opening as we park at 4:55 and I am the second in line to check our one bag. Before we know it, we are on the plane but because of the cold weather, de-icing takes 30 minutes.

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Flying into the Sunrise

My breakfast is tomato juice. My hubby is behind me on this smaller plane in which he cannot even stand up straight. We fly towards a beautiful sun rise with streaks of blazing orange and yellow. By 8 a.m., we are on the ground in Chicago. We have a long walk to the next concourse with just enough time to grab some nuts to complete the tomato juice breakfast. My assigned seat is the middle of the three seats on this flight to Charlotte, NC. I take one look at the big man by the window and realize that I will not survive in the middle seat between him and my hubby as I am claustrophobic and one of my nightmares is being suffocated between two oversized people in these undersized seats.

“You need to sit in the middle seat,” I instruct my better half. This is not a great option for him either as his legs are too long but what is one to do.

By noon, we are rolling into Charlotte. We have just under an hour before boarding our next flight. We are making good time. Another long walk is required to reach our last departure gate. This time I decide to grab some sandwiches for us. There is no price on the chicken salad sandwich that I choose from the display freezer. That seems faster than waiting in line for handmade ones from behind the service counter. As I hand them to the checkout lady, she casually enlightens me, “These are really expensive. Are you sure you really want them?” I stare blankly at her. It takes me a second to comprehend what she is trying to communicate. It seems like a really strange thing to say after I have already waited 15 minutes to arrive at the checkout counter. I don’t have time to go back and start over looking for a cheaper choice so I guess I am buying $14 sandwiches. If it is important enough to inform the customer of this at the cash register, wouldn’t you think it would be important enough to mark the price on them in the cooler?

After enjoying our overpriced sandwiches, we are ready to board the last leg of our flight today to Miami. Again, I am assigned the middle seat. This time I luck out and my window partner is a slim petit young lady. Good – I can breathe. As the flight gets underway, she falls asleep. I notice that in her hands she holds a book entitled Serving God in Dangerous Places. I am intrigued by the book and by my seat partner. In my younger days, serving God in dangerous places would have fit right in with my adventurous spirit. I reach over and gently slide the book out of her limp hands and begin to read. This is a book I must buy. I finally return the book to her unsuspecting hands while she doses on. Later, we talk and I learn that she is on her way to the Dominican Republic to teach in a Christian school there. Before I know it, we are landing in Miami.044

There are only two more tasks to check off our list and then we will we on our way towards Duck Keys, FL. We need to pick up our luggage and then find our way to the rental car area. We flow along with the mass of humanity towards the luggage pickup zone. We walk and we walk and we walk. And we walk some more. I swear we must be half way across Miami by the time we finally reach the designated area. Finding the rental car agencies is a reverse of the long walk in the opposite direction. Our steps have begun to drag along the floor and the stumbles have increased. As we follow the signs to “Rental Cars,” we find ourselves at a dead end. There are doors on either side that open and close as other travelers get off and on a subway type transportation.

“Are we supposed to get on the train?” we ask each other. There are no directions posted to guide us.

“I don’t know,” is my frustrated response. “I have no idea where we are or what we are supposed to do.” Well, I guess we get on and go for an “El” ride to somewhere. As we step off when it stops, there is the sign pointing to the rental cars. Yippee!

“What we have reserved for you,” says the Budget rental agent “is a VW bug. Will that be big enough for you?” My hubby and I look at each other – “A VW bug???” How is my 6’ 4” husband going to fit in that? Noticing our hesitation, she continues, “We can upgrade you to a bigger car.”  But we instantly reject the upgrade. It seems the rental agencies are always trying to make more money by sneaking in upgrades and extras and we are always getting caught in these endeavors. We soon have secured our shiny black VW bug. With the seat pushed all the way back, my hubby’s ample frame fits nicely into it. There is no back seat left but we don’t need one.010

The roads leaving the airport remind us all too soon that we are in the east and out of our driving element. There is not much to do about that but hang onto the wheel and go. We have a four-hour drive to Hawks Cay Resort at Duck Keys which is our destination. It is dark and raining but warm when we arrive. As my hubby slides the seat ahead in our VW to retrieve his camera which he has lain on the floor, a strangled sound escapes his lips.

“What’s wrong,” I ask.

His distressed voice responds, “My camera lens is shattered. It must have gotten crushed by pushing the seat back. I’ve never had a problem with putting it on the floor before.”

“Oh, NO! What are we going to do? How are we going to take any pictures here?”

“I don’t know,” concedes my hubby, “I am hoping the inner lens is not damaged. If it’s not, I can maybe just change the outer lens. If the inner lens is shattered too, my expensive camera is useless.”

What a bummer of a way to end our day of travel. We are both depressed. But given an hour, my resourceful husband has been able to remove the damaged lens and replace it with a new one. The camera is as good as new and we are ready for our adventure in the Florida Keys.077