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From the East and the West, the North and the South, of every tribe and tongue, they come. This is the sight and sound of the Holy Land. It is glorious. Faithful Christians on pilgrimage. Different customs, styles and pieties are unashamedly on full display. People kneel, sing, pray, sit in quiet and talk in excitement. All on full display. Brothers and sisters in Christ in one place for one purpose—to experience the Bible lands and grow in faith. The joy is evident and the seriousness of the quest is ongoing reality.
Today we were surrounded by the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. The Sea of Galilee was smooth as glass for our early morning sail. It was peaceful and the soft breeze was cool and refreshing. There was Capernaum over here and the Mount of Beatitudes over there. Look ahead and you will see the home of Peter, the Jordan River flows out to your left and the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is a short distance ahead. Story after story of the life of Christ filled the soul with peace and power at the same time. Suddenly, one didn’t just know a Jesus story; it sprang to life. God allowed your momentary timeline to intersect with the divine. Jesus was real.
The museum housing the priceless find of a fishing boat from the time on Jesus was an unexpected pleasure. Hidden under mud from a Roman naval maneuver and thus preserved, science archeologists have concluded with some probability that it is possible that Jesus either knew the owner or even touched the boat. This was due to its discovery location near the area Jesus often traveled, the small population of the area in that time frame and the rather costly material of cypress wood imported from Lebanon used in its construction, indicating that it was a professional fisherman’s boat. Peter and his brothers were professional fishermen turned by Jesus into fishers of men. Such profound contemplation.
At the Mt. of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the “sermon on the mount” stands a lovely and peaceful grove of trees of many different varieties, with flowers in abundance, overlooking the beautiful Sea of Galilee. We were trying to get a quiet spot to hear the Beatitudes read, but the intensity of the crowds made it nearly impossible. Then, the spiritual reality that God had brought the world together in this one place, with our group as part of a much larger Christian whole, sunk in—we were all family by faith! Now the beatitudes took on special meaning. God provided a nun at just the right moment to begin asking the crowds to quiet, so that people could have contemplation. People in our group raised their hands when a beatitude was read that applied to their now. It was powerful.
Capernaum is the second most mentioned city in the Bible after Jerusalem. It was home to Jesus during his ministry. The temple where he prayed is here and so is St. Peter’s home where he stayed. While this blog would be mega longer if I gave all the information we are getting, I do want to give you a taste. How do we know this is Peter’s home? Because, first, the Bible says he lived in Capernaum and second, the residents of the small city pronounced it his home from the first century. On later discovery, the small apartment-sized home contained old graffiti praising Jesus, the only such graffiti in the city. Now a beautiful church surrounds the home and an observation area on the upper floor is glass, allowing an unobstructed view down to the home.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Fishes and the Loaves is not far from Capernaum. It dates from 350 A.D. and commemorates Jesus’s great miracle of feeding the 5,000. The guide asked us to look at the mosaic floor upon which we stood and then informed us it was 1,600 years old. “Take off the shoes from off your feet—for the ground upon which you stand is holy ground.” Amazing and awesome rolled into one emotion.
Then the Jordan! We remembered our baptisms in a special ceremony in the Jordan River. Jesus began His ministry with being baptized in the Jordan. Tears were shed, faith was recommitted, grace was abundant, the Holy Spirit was present, water was touched, and God’s gift of baptism was celebrated. Raw, yet heartfelt, emotion rolled with energy throughout. “Receive the sign of the holy cross on your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. The Lord will bless your coming in and your going out, from this time forth and even forevermore!” Amen! WEG
Standing on Mt. Carmel—it was a climb worth every step—one looks west to the Mediterranean Sea; east to Nazareth and Cana of Galilee and south to Megiddo and Caesarea. All of Israel is jam-packed with history, both religious and secular. However, in the north of Israel, Bible stories come alive in this heart of the northern Bibleland. Mt. Carmel is where the great prophet of old, Elijah, challenged evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and their worship of the old Canaanite god Baal. He ridiculed 450 Baal priests in a worship duel where the God of Israel came down in fire to burn up Elijah’s worship offering; whereas, the Baal priests only received silence from heaven as they called upon Baal to burn their offering.
Nazareth was Jesus’ childhood home and the majestic Church of the Annunciation stands on the spot where the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to be the Mother of Jesus. We were struck with the multitudes of faithful Christians from around the world who filed past the House of the Holy Family inside the church walls. Kneeling and praying, singing or sitting in quiet solitude, the multicultural and multi-ethnicity of the Christian Church was on glorious display in this reverent space. Awesome falls amazingly short of describing the experience.
Just south is Megiddo and its ruins. Situated in the most strategic intersection between Egypt and Mesopotamia, whoever controlled Megiddo gained enormous financial and military clout. Because of this, Megiddo has several thousand years of history before King Solomon ruled the city and built Salomon’s gates, now being uncovered and restored near the even more ancient Canaanite gates to the city. In fact, the city has 26 layers of ruins, let that sink in—26 layers of antiquity! Here, the New Testament book of Revelations speaks of the final battle between good and evil under the name Armageddon. We walked past the ruins of King Ahab’s (Ahab and Jezebel fame) horse stables and entered the deep shaft subterranean water system dug during his reign. Incredible. We came out of the system at the base of Mount Carmel exhausted and fulfilled.
The day began at awesome Caesarea. Extensive and well preserved ruins of this most important Mediterranean city remain—the theatre, the hippodrome (horse races), the port, portions of the palace, stone walls and the water aqueduct with its stone arches remain to this day. I stood where the Apostle Paul made his appeal to go for trial before Caesar in Rome that would eventually give him a martyr’s death. Moving indeed!
I could say it was a full day of activity, but I prefer a fulfilling day descriptor. And to top it all off—the Mediterranean food we were served has been gasp inspiring, which simply means we are all going to bed full! WEG
Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling in the gut when you realize you are in a big mess? How does one get into the most security-conscious country in the world without a passport? Mind you, they were exquisitely kind, but bottom line, “No passport, no entry” to Israel.
I searched frantically, but no passport. Kathy and all of our friends were whizzing through passport control, but I was not going to be able to do so. I ran way back to the Air Canada flight entry point, but I was not allowed to enter. “Go to passport control,” they advised. I ran all the way back down; found police who also directed me to passport control. Once I found the office, they were efficient but unemotional—I was emotional! They called someone and told me to wait while the plane was checked. About fifteen minutes later, I was handed my passport. Somehow, during the night, it had been dislodged from my secure spot and fell onto the floor while I tossed and turned trying to sleep. I breathed a sigh of relief and rejoined Kathy, on the other side—in the Holy Land!
Our first day was wonderful. We got a feel of the country as we visited Tel Aviv and Joppa/Jaffa. Joppa is the Biblical site of the great port into which the cedars of Lebanon arrived to construct the great Temple in Jerusalem under King Solomon. It was also the port from which Jonah tried to escape his calling from God to go preach to the rebellious people of Nineveh and as a result was swallowed by a great fish. It was where Tabitha/Dorcas, the woman of awesome social work, was raised from the dead by St. Peter. Here St. Peter also received the amazing vision to spread the gospel of Jesus to the gentiles (non-Jews) and not to simply stick with his own Jewish friends, thus greatly expanding the reach of the early Christian Church. Old Joppa has narrow corridors and stone paving descending down to the port where so many Bible stories came to life.
We spent quiet time in St. Peter’s Church where art depicted the life of St. Peter as it related to the city of Joppa. It is believed the church was constructed on the site of Simon the Tanner’s home, the roof top from which Peter received the missionary vision from God.
Our long day—flight, plus site-seeing—ended beautifully at our wonderful hotel on the Mediterranean Sea in Netanyahu, Israel, a relatively new city north of Tel Aviv overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The powdered sugar-white sand was a pleasant reminder that Israel is more than history, it is actually a beautiful country. Our meal to end the day with a buffet of local favorites hit just the right spot—Have you ever eaten small but whole pickled eggplant (quite tasty) or lamb burgers with crushed chick pea or turnips and cucumber in a seasoned vinaigrette? The unusual selections were extensive and we savored every bite before heading to our room for a good night’s sleep. Thank you, God, for travel mercies, even when I really messed things up, and for a great beginning to our Holy Land pilgrimage! WEG
We could imagine the pomp and circumstance as the Kings of France walked down the humongous aisle of the Reims Cathedral as colored light streamed through the luminous stained glass windows. Over 30 monarchs were crowned here after Clovis, the first French King, was baptized in the 400s. An engraving in the floor marks the spot. The gowns, robes, scepter, jewelry and crown of Charles X are on display in the Treasury of the cathedral, along with other artifacts of the royal extravagance. Heavily damaged during World War I, the cathedral was painstakingly rebuilt. Some of the statuary that was damaged in the war are on display in the Treasury, and that is when we noticed the immense size of the statues. High up on the cathedral’s facade they look much smaller. With much of the stained glass destroyed during the First World War, more recent glass artist’s designs are taking their place. Of particular interest are those of Marc Chagall that grace the rear chapel. The cathedral has intricate stone work, beautiful flying buttresses—the architectural breakthrough that allowed for the massive building size and ability to have large stained glass openings of the grand gothic style—and an elongated nave with soaring ceilings.
Reims is the major city of the champagne region of France. Only sparkling wine that comes from the grapes around Reims can legally be called champagne. There are many champagne chateaux in the region, and we visited Pommery on the outskirts of the city. Impressive. Eighteen kilometers of chalk caverns are below the surface. They contain over 20 million bottles of champagne in the aging process. We saw one million of them as we walked through the cool tunnels connecting the caverns. Our guide explained the complex champagne making process, and we saw bottles from the 1700s. The tour was informative; however, I was not thrilled that we had to walk the steps back up to the surface. Those steps were rewarded, joyfully, with a large glass of “bubbly.”
The weather is amazing. Sunny and cool. Reims is a beautiful French city with wide boulevards, classic architecture and flowing fountains. Our two days here have been wonderful; however, tomorrow we must bid both Reims and France “good-bye” as we head to the Charles de Gaul Airport in Paris for our trip back home. What an amazing adventure we have been blessed to take! God is good. WEG
The liberation of France from German occupation under Hitler in World War II was a pivotal event in the history of that time. The sacrifice of U.S. soldiers in the invasion of the Normandy beaches is well documented. This was our day to visit the historic sites of the invasion. It was a beautiful, cool and sunny day.
We met our tour at the World War Museum in Caen. A bus to the museum left from close to our hotel. As we arrived the flags of the nations that participated in the invasion were flapping in the wind. Caen held a strategic position in the immediate invasion route of the allied forces and over 70% of the city was flattened; hence, the city is quite modern by European standards.
Our first stop was Pointe du Hoc. Here the Germans had numerous cannon guarding the Normandy coast. They could throw a bomb with accuracy 14 miles. Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder, a U.S. soldier, led a small force of GI’s in a stealth tactic to take the cannon out in the early morning hours. They were successful. Rutter later became President of Texas A & M University. The landscape here still contains bomb craters from American aerial bombardment as well as remnants of German concrete underground bunkers and cannon firing ramps. We looked out into the ocean from the high cliffs and watched the blue waves from the English Channel crash the shore and imagined how this beauty was shattered by the ferocious battles here almost 75 years ago.
We drove along the five mile Normandy beach that now has names such as Utah and Omaha and memorial markers along the way. We stopped at the section now known as Omaha Beach and viewed a memorial. The beach is beautiful, but on that day it was lain with land mines and invasion barriers and, on the hills above the beach, machine gun nests and mortar launchers. Many U.S. troops died before they even touched the beach. Eventually, the troops took the hills, and the invasion to retake France and enter Germany began.
Our next stop was the U.S. cemetery just off the beach. It is a beautiful and tranquil setting with trees shaped into large topiaries. A majestic columned entry features a statue of an American youth rising from the waves to protect freedom. (The average age of the U.S. soldiers killed here on that day was 23.) A reflecting pool reaches toward the cemetery where over 9,000 soldiers are buried. White Italian marble crosses are lined up in perfect order—humbling. Towards the end of our stay, taps began to play and the flag was retired for the day. Elderly troops visiting that day were seen visibly weeping—moving indeed!
Our day concluded with a 360* immersive movie of that time that included video and pictures recently uncovered of the invasion forces. We felt sadness for the loss of life, thankful for the sacrifices made, and proud to be American. WEG
The further north we drove the more autumn gold and red we saw. The closer to the coast we drove the more solid stone buildings we saw. Our destination was Mont Saint Michel, the island citadel topped with an abbey in the Celtic Sea just off the coast of France. When it is high tide, the island is surrounded by water, while low tide leaves the entire island as a monumental rock outcropping. Access at all times is via a raised wooden pier. It is an impressive site that we saw from miles away before arriving at our car park. The citadel is also a small city, and once inside the iron gates, shops, hotels and restaurants lined the narrow walkways up the island mountain. This was a steep ascent followed by, at the end, numerous flights of staircase. The abbey is still active, and those who serve there perform numerous duties. We observed one monk teaching a large number of mid-aged teens Christian theology while gathered around the altar of a church built into the mountainside. Ramparts are built into the rock and very narrow stairs leading to museums or courtyards are a part of the complex architecture of this island. We marveled at the difficulty of building such a beautiful network of life into such a tall piece of stone in such a lonely and ethereal place.
As we drove up the coastal area amongst large dairy herds and cleanly- tilled farms, I had bucolic memories of past days and people. This is what makes travel so enjoyable. WEG
The Loire Valley in central France is filled with old chateaux, all elegant and some magnificent. We drove south of Chartres toward Tours and into the valley along the river. It was an enchanting drive! We drove past vast farm fields, mostly tilled for the winter, but some already sprouting winter grains. The trees were turning yellow gold, and we were thrilled to drive under tree archways along our sometimes one lane roads. Through tidy French villages and towns we passed typical French homes and buildings with stucco and brick (sometimes stone) design. We saw thatched roof farm homes with cattle and horses. It was a delightful drive. In one particularly picturesque village, we noticed a patisserie across from a small park. We stopped and smelled the fresh baguettes from the bakery oven. We could not resist ordering a sandwich of cheese and ham, and we were glad we did—delicious!
Our highlight of the day was our time spent at the grand Chambord Chateau. French round towers with round pointy tops mingled with tall large square chimneys topped with intricate crowns. The impossibly steep roofs added to the splendor. We are talking huge and intricate here! Balconies overlooked lavish gardens, and the rivers were made into canals with grand effect. The interior was just as grand. A massive circular double helix staircase moved you up to the fourth floor—I counted 52 steps between floors—the ceilings are high. Some of the larger rooms had two huge fireplaces. It was wondrous!
We continued to drive past other grand chateaux as we journeyed to Tours. We came into the wine region where large clusters of deep purple grapes hung towards the bottom of the vines. Harvest will soon come.
Our evening meal in Tours was a gastronomical delight. Layers of flavor and intricate mixture of textures were amazing. We ordered two fixed price meals of the chef’s special per couple and shared—Starters: ravioli foie gras on a bed of roasted tomatoes and dark roux with grilled onions, and roasted jumbo shrimp on a bed of small shrimp in cream sauce—Main courses: veal filet with an orange glaze with large morelles in a chopped mushroom sauce, and crisp filet of honey glazed salmon on a bed of scallops in a honey cream reduction—Cheese Plate: seven varieties of French soft cheeses—Dessert: Tart filled with whipped cream surrounded with lingonberries and blueberries with basil, and panna cotta topped with raspberry sorbet surrounded by strawberries and mint. We were also served pre-starter appetizers with wonderful French bread. It will be a meal we will not soon forget. We all fell fast asleep in our hotel since we needed to leave before the huge Tours Marathon began near our hotel the next morning. WEG
On Friday, we drove south from Rouen toward Chartres. It was a comical drive, as we wanted to take the country roads and ended up getting lost several times. However, because the country side was so interesting and beautiful and we were not on a strict time frame, we were happy with the experience. We did stop at a restaurant in one town and were served a wonderful meal. Oh, the French make eating such a pleasure! Kathy and Randy ordered lasagna and Melisa and I ordered calzones. We were in for a delightful surprise! The lasagna was not tomato sauce and meat, but cream sauce and scallops—lots of scallops. The calzone contained a French cheese with ham and for added texture in taste, eggs—baked inside to an easy over consistency. It was all so very tasty and Italian, done with French connotations.
We spent time in Giverny, the favorite place for Claude Monet to paint his masterpieces of Impressionism. We walked past the lily pond, touched the weeping willows, walked the bridge and meandered in the stunning gardens filled with fragrant and heavily blooming flowers and could understand how he found his genius inspiration to paint so many canvases here. His home was filled with his furniture. We were quite happy we had made a slight detour to visit this bucolic place.
The Chartres Cathedral’s stained glass windows live up to the hype. The largest collection of early medieval stained glass remaining were brilliant on this sunny cool day. In a cacophony of blues, greens, reds and golds, the windows told both Old Testament and New Testament Bible stories for the meditation of people because they could not read. One famous set of the windows tells the story of the temptation of Jesus by Satan—Satan is shown in red in the windows. A choir was singing vespers and their blended voices as they chanted the psalms reverberated through the high vaulted ceilings of the cathedral. Later, we enjoyed another great French meal in a brasserie and headed off to a great night’s sleep in our wonderful hotel. WEG
Rouen, France, turned out to be everything we had hoped for–a charming “old” French city with character oozing out of its streets. We were wowed by this forgotten city. Not one, but three, massive churches dominate the skyline. Rouen is where Joan of Arc was accused of sorcery and burned at the stake, and there is much ado about that part of the city’s history. It is also the burial place of the Viking warrior and first Duke of Normandy, Rollo.
We were mesmerized by the wonderful cathedral. It is huge and beautiful with three towers–one known as the butter tower, because it was financed by wealthy people who paid a special indulgence to buy forbidden butter during the Lenten Season. Later in the evening, we watched an illumination presentation on the cathedral’s facade. It was impressive. Moving images told the history of Rouen accompanied by captivating music.
We spent much time roving the narrow and cobble-stoned streets of Rouen. The city is famous for its streets filled with half-timbered buildings. Many are quite crooked but that makes for a charming atmosphere. Bistros with outside seating under brightly colored awnings were everywhere. We stopped for beer or wine and food on several occasions. We all said that Rouen would be a great place to spend much more time. We enjoyed the ambiance of mighty and massive gothic buildings combined with streets stretching out in every direction with medieval buildings. Alas, we needed to bid the city farewell. WEG
Wednesday was a day of hitting the highlights of Paris: Seine River Tour, Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame. The Louvre, one of the world’s great museums, was packed with tourists. It was wonderful because of the great art, but not fun making our way following our tour guide through the throngs of people. Trying to see the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Venci’s great work, was next to hilarious. I pushed my way forward to get a good picture with the best of them! Basically, we got to see the greatest works in the collection in this huge former palace before getting out into more people-less spaces.
Our Seine River boat tour was relaxing, moving under beautiful bridges and past majestic buildings–I think Paris is one of— if not the most— beautiful city in the world. It has harmony in style and glorious scope in magnificence. Soon we arrived at the Eiffel Tower—such grace in design—and took the elevator up to our restaurant where we were served a noon meal—the duck liver with foie gras was especially delicious. We marveled at the views over the city.
Our tour boat took us onward to Notre Dame, the iconic Paris cathedral with its flying buttresses on an island in the Seine. Kathy and I have been there numerous times, with our attendance at an Easter service standing out in memory. It was cool and refreshing inside the building. The stained glass stood out as the sun shone brightly outside. We learned that an evening vesper service was soon to begin and, as our tour for the day had ended, we decided to stay for this meditative time. It was uplighting and beautiful.
We found an outside bistro, took a seat and watched the world go by as we enjoyed typical Paris bistro selections. WEG