Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
As British comedian John Cleese of Monty Python used to say: “And now for something completely different!”
The Elvis Inn sits right off the major highway from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv near the town of Abu Ghosh. Whereas the King of Kings dominated just about every other site we visited, here they pay tribute to the “king of rock and roll,” Elvis Presley.
A larger than life-size golden statue of the performer greets you at the entrance.
The inside is reminiscent of a 50s-era diner or soda shop, covered wall-to-wall (even in the restrooms!) with Elvis pictures and other memorabilia. A cheeseburger, fries and malted milkshake were a bit pricey, but a welcome change from kosher buffet dining or falafel.
After lunch, we ended the afternoon touring the city of Jaffa on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Referred to in the Bible as Joppa, the city has been a major port since very early times. Cedar from Lebanon was transported first to Joppa before being carried to Jerusalem to build Solomon’s temple and to refurbish it hundreds of years later after the Jews returned from exile. (2 Chronicles 2:15-17 and Ezra 3:6-8) Jonah set sail from here when he tried to run away from God instead of preaching to the Ninevites. (Jonah 1:2-4) And it also played a major role in the spread of Christian faith among the gentiles — while staying here with a tanner named Simon, Peter received his vision of clean and unclean animals. He also miraculously raised a woman named Tabitha (or Dorcas) from the dead. (Acts 9:36-43)
The city has a mainly Arab population and there are a lot of architectural remains from the late Ottoman period in the early 1900s, including the lovely clock tower on the main street plaza.
But there was a lot of renovation and new construction, too.
Our tour of the old city started near the harbor at the bottom of the hill. The area is much changed since I was last there — gentrification has added a bunch of trendy restaurants, shops and artist studios to the waterfront area. And apparently it’s a popular place to celebrate weddings — or at least get your pictures taken.
We passed through a doorway in an old stone building that said “to old Jaffa” and were on our way up the stone steps and into the heart of the oldest part of the city.
The traditional site of the home of Simon the Tanner is about half way up to the top of the hill. It is owned by an Armenian Christian family and seldom open to the public.
St. Peter’s Church at the top of the hill is one of the few red brick structures in the area. The church was built in the 1650s, destroyed several times, and the current structure finished in 1894. For hundreds of years it’s steeple was a signal to traveling pilgrims that they had finally arrived in the Holy Land, including Napoleon Bonaparte who visited in 1799.
Compared to some of the other churches we saw on the trip, this one was relatively simple in decoration with pastel colored vaulted ceilings and a stained glass window depicting the Holy Spirit.
The plaza outside St. Peter’s contains a variety of artisans and craftspeople (their studios are also scattered throughout the winding streets of the old city). And you get a glorious view of the Mediterranean and the Andromeda Rocks.
Our final night was spent at a small hotel called the Grand Beach, which sits a half block off the beach and promenade. There was only one other pilgrim group there, so we didn’t have to find space among the hundreds of visitors at our hotel in Jerusalem. Add the cool breeze that came into the guest rooms off the Mediterranean, and it was a very pleasant place to relax and unwind after a busy ten days of travel.
Bright and early the next morning we headed back to Ben Gurion airport for check-in and our flight back home to the USA.
Bidding “goodbye” to the Holy Land, we remembered the traditional Jewish saying … “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Click here for more pictures of the Elvis Inn, Jaffa and Tel Aviv.