A visit to the Holy Land is usually a profound Christian faith experience. Considering there are over fifty sites we’ll visit that are connected to the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, how could it be otherwise? But sometimes all of the new information and all of the spiritual “pondering” can be a bit overwhelming. So Randy and I make sure to build in numerous opportunities for the “Three F’s” — food, fun and frolic.
The food in Israel is plentiful, delicious and very healthy. Breakfast and dinner buffets at our hotels seem almost “endless,” chock full of whole grain bread and rolls, lean meat and fish, fruit and a variety of vegetable salads, fresh cheese and yoghurt. They’re a wonderful way to start the morning or to relax and bond with new friends after a long day of touring.
One of my all-time favorite meals was a lunch we enjoyed many years ago at a restaurant near the Sea of Galilee. It was during the local avocado harvest, and the all-you-can-eat super-chunk, home-made “guacamole” was to die for. Randy feels much the same way about the soft, warm, just-baked bread that is sold early in the morning on the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. Paired with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, it makes the perfect “fast food” breakfast. Both of us have enjoyed the traditional “St. Peter’s Fish” lunch in Tiberias, and we firmly believe that the Temptation Restaurant in Jericho more than lives up to its name.
Meals that are re-enactments of earlier cultures have also been intriguing and educational. During a Roman-era dinner, for example, Randy pretend “dueled” with a young Israeli and one of our female pilgrims got to play a flirtatious Cleopatra. It was a hoot to watch even our most staid travelers dressed up in togas and helmets, laughing and enjoying themselves. Only the Canadians at the next table managed to out-do us.
This trip we’ll share an authentic Bedouin lunch when we tour the area of Mt. Tabor. The Bedouin are known for their hospitality, and so it promises to be a thoroughly enjoyable event. We’re also looking forward to one of our last nights in Jerusalem when our tour company treats us to an authentic mid-eastern dinner. George’s International is the first company we’ve used that’s ever done this, and for me it’s another indication of their commitment to providing the best pilgrimage possible.
For many visitors to Israel, “fun” means shopping. From modern gift shops to vendors on the streets, you’d be hard pressed to find a better variety of hand-crafted, ethnic and religious souvenirs: Palestinian embroidery, woven purses and tablecloths made by the Druze community, hand-painted Armenian pottery and tiles, and my favorite — jewelry fashioned from pieces of ancient Roman glass. On this trip we’ll also visit an artisan’s studio in Bethlehem for a close-hand look at olive wood carving — with the opportunity to make a purchase that we know will assist the local community. It’s quite a difference from the usual “packaged tour” practice of herding tourists into a large shop for a “feeding frenzy” of pressured, overpriced spending.
Bargaining in the souq — the traditional street market in the Arab and Christian quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem — is also an experience that should not be missed. But make sure you know what you’re buying. On our last trip I got hooked on “pashmina” scarves and came home with a half-dozen of them in a range of different colors and patterns. I was quite happy until I saw them here in the States at a Walgreens and discovered they were actually “made in China!”
“Frolic” is defined as moving about with playfulness, excitement and energy, and we’ll be doing plenty of that on the tour, too. We can hop on a camel in Jericho. We can climb by cable car to see some amazing vistas. We can sing praise music while sailing on the Sea of Galilee. We can walk the streets of some of the oldest spots on earth. We can float in the Dead Sea or wallow in the mud along its shores. And we can sift for treasure in the “garbage” from the Temple Mount.
And what other “frolic-y” thing do I intend to do? Why, I’ll add to my photographic series “Cats of the Holy Land.” (These two beauties to the right live somewhere in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. They were “shot” on our way to St. Mark’s Monastery, the alternative site of the Upper Room.)
Israel is just that wonderful — a land where delightful surprises await you each and every time you stop, look and listen. I can hardly wait to go!