Walking on Water: Nazareth & Galilee Tour

Posted: March 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

Israel has a lot of places holy to the Christian faith outside of Jerusalem.  While I wanted to avoid Bethlehem because crowds & I don’t mix well, we did decide to go on a Nazareth & Galilee tour departing from Tel Aviv.  A bus picked us up across the street from our hotel, and then we were transferred in a larger bus.  Our tour guide was a middle-aged man with a sly sense of humor (which Rick always appreciates) who not only gave us a lot of great information, but drove as well.  Much kudos since I can’t even talk on the phone and type at the same time. 



We started in Nazareth, visiting the church built on top of Mary’s house where the Annunciation (when the Angel announced to Mary she was to bear a child) took place.  The church has colorful stained glass windows which give off a reddish glow to the interior that makes it look quite otherworldly.  Mary’s childhood stone house is at the center.  It looks simple in contrast with the extravagant church surrounding it. 

Nearby, is the home that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus lived & worked in.  It’s quite a simple series of rooms.  I’m assuming Joseph also came from the nearby area, but I’ve noticed no one talks about him much.  I once played Mary in a church nativity play and had a major crush at the time on the guy who played Joseph (mostly because he was pretty much the only boy around my age who spoke to me on a regular basis), so Joseph (the father of Jesus) has always been of interest to me.  I think he gets short shrift in terms of people becoming giddy over him, which is a shame.  I mean, he had to be a pretty upstanding guy when his fiancée came to him and basically said, “I’m pregnant.  But, I swear I’m still a virgin,” and he still tried to do the right thing by her.  (The angel dream probably helped too.)  Ok, enough about Joseph.  Onwards!


Church of the Multiplication


Lighting prayer candles.

On the way to the Church of the Multiplication, we drove by Megiddo where the Apocalypse is supposedly going to take place.  It looks like a normal mountainous region, nothing spectacular.  But then again, most battlefields don’t.  And the battle hasn’t taken place yet anyhow.

The Church of the Multiplication is on the site where the miracle of the fish & bread supposedly took place.  This is according to Emperor Constantine’s mom who wandered around Israel building churches on what she deemed to be the sites of the important events of the Bible & then taking the choice bits back to Rome.  There’s actually a rock near the altar where the miracle took place but when we arrived, it was fenced off due to being defaced by tourists.  Oh tourists, the singular greatest cause of troubles to other tourists.  Regardless, it’s a lovely church to visit. Don’t miss the original Byzantine-era mosaics on the floor of the church.  Gorgeous. 


Sea of Galilee


Tilapia! I’m pretty sure they didn’t eat fries during Jesus’ time though.

Since we’d just visited the Church of the Multiplication in which we spent a while talking about bread & fish, we stopped for lunch afterwards.  Of course, we had to enjoy the tilapia (the fish said to be used in that miracle).  Those less into fishy foods, enjoyed chicken kebabs instead.  While we ate, we enjoyed the view of the Sea of Galilee.  Afterwards, we frolicked on the edge of the large sea.  Rick decided to walk on water, in homage to the miracle of Jesus walking on the water.  We had to attempt it in a less holy manner since Rick didn’t have any clothes to change into in case his faith failed.  The water is so clear and clean-looking.  We could’ve probably enjoyed hanging out there for another hour or two, but we had more to see, so we climbed back on the bus. 


Walking on water.



Capernaum is the site of a ton of miracles, with people getting healed left and right.  No one was healed on our tour (at least none that I know of).  However, we enjoyed seeing the Roman ruins, especially a large synagogue built in the style of a Roman temple.  The Jewish symbolism is woven into all the decorations, very subtle and quite surprising once you spot it. 

Jordan River


Finally, we ended our tour at the Jordan River.  What is most surprising about the Jordan River is how tropical it looks.  Ok, it makes sense there’s vegetation everywhere because it’s a large river, but I’d always pictured it being a desert.  Instead, if you plonked me on a boat in the middle of the river, I’d feel like I was back on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland (minus the animatronic animals).  You can get baptized just like Jesus in the river, but only wearing a certain white robe that must be rented (or purchased if you want it as a souvenir) from the shop there.  Just be aware that while you’re enjoying your baptism (or swim), there’s actually a video camera that videotapes you the entire time.  Without knowing.  But, of course, you can purchase it afterwards.  The only reason we found out is when I pointed out a video playing onscreen nearby the gift shop to Rick, and then realized that we and a couple of people from our tour group were IN the video.  We didn’t want to splurge on the robes, so we made our way to the edge of the river, as close as we could get without going in, and flicked water over each other’s heads.  The rest of the time, we wandered around enjoying the beautiful landscape.  There’s also a large number of plaques there with the baptism passage from Mark 1:9-11 written on them and translated in practically every language. 

We arrived back in Tel Aviv, late in the afternoon, tired but happy.  It was a good tour by a competent tour guide.  Rick and I always like ending our day knowing we’ve gained some fun knowledge to bombard other people with later. 

Observations of Tel Aviv

Posted: March 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates, Thoughts | No Comments »

Days before we were taking a bus to Tel Aviv, we received a notice from the US embassy (courtesy of signing up for STEP so that our gov’t knew we were in Israel in case something happened), that a bomb had exploded on an Israeli bus in the outskirts of Tel Aviv.  Thankfully, someone had spotted the suspicious package and alerted everyone to get off in time, so no one was hurt.  However, the US embassy was urging caution, and we took their advice on hand.  While I admit we were nervous on the whole bus ride, with our eyes peeled for any suspicious packages and/or people, we ended up having a very smooth, very quick ride. 

Our first impressions of Tel Aviv is that it’s very different from Jerusalem, even the Old City part of it.  It’s quite a modern city, with a laid-back open-minded attitude towards life.  In fact, we met a man who enthusiastically told us about all the best spots in the city, and he describes Israel’s three biggest cities in this way: “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv parties.”  While we’re not big party people, we definitely enjoyed the laissez-faire atmosphere. 


The gorgeous Mediterranean Sea.

The first thing we did was lounge around on the beach.  The beach this beautiful ombre color, shifting from pale turquoise to dark blue.  Gorgeous.  We spend many hours listening to the sounds of the waves and talking.  As you’ll have noticed, Rick and I like talking with each other a lot.  The tension unknotted from my shoulders and we lazed around doing very little. 

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5 “Free” Things to Do in Jerusalem

Posted: March 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates, Free | 2 Comments »

Most of the religious sites in Jerusalem are free of charge. However, you’ll quickly discover that not many other things are, and what is free usually has a “donations” charge tacked onto the bottom of it. Here are 5 “free” things to do in Jerusalem:

Yad Vashem


Yad Vashem is an extensive Holocaust museum. And when I mean extensive, I mean it took us almost 4 hours to get through every section of the main museum (and we were walking through rather quickly towards the end). It covers from the rise of Hitler all the way to the end of World War II in exhausting detail. Of course, being in Israel, it focuses on the Jewish experiences in the ghettos and concentration camps. However, there’s some mention of the other persecuted minorities and a section on the Resistance which Rick particularly found intriguing. They have an actual cobblestone street from one of the ghettos running through a section and another train car for one of the concentration camps. The main museum ends in a large room containing books listing every single person sent to a concentration camp and/or persecuted. It’s quite sobering.

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Jerusalem & Religion

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »


Wow, it’s been almost a month since my last posting.  I’ve been working on a New Years resolution of mine called "Write 1 Submit 1" which you can read in more detail here if you’re at all interested.  Suffice to say, it’s been kicking my butt.  That, combined with the innumerable wonders Italy has to offer, and I’ve ended up with approximately 20+ posts queued up, all outlined out with notes, and nowhere near completion.  If you’re curious about where we are (and if we’re still alive) when I’m being a slacker, I do have a nascent twitter account (@ctbideas or https://twitter.com/ctbideas for all you non-twitter folk) where I write about random things that catch my attention, plus the occasional Rick Joke which enjoy a certain cachet among those in the know.  All right, enough of a Public Service Announcement.  On to more interesting things. 

When one think of Jerusalem, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the religious significance of this city.  It is the center of 3 major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  And the first thing I realized as I walked through the Old City of Jerusalem, is how much tension still exists between and within these three main faiths. Everyone is so careful not to offend anyone or be offended by anyone, I felt like I was stepping on eggshells everywhere we went, never knowing if we were in the right place or dressed correctly or saying the right things or accidentally offending someone with some innocuous gesture. 

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Cappadocia Day Tour & the Goreme Open-Air Museum

Posted: January 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »


We had the chance to take in a day tour later on the same day we went on the hot air balloon ride. Due to the snow, our tour ended up being an amalgamation of the various tours the company offered.  The most interesting part was the Derinkuyu Underground City, the deepest one of many underground cities in this region.  The first levels were dug very early on, and as each new group of inhabitants came and went, they dug deeper and wider, so that there ended up being a total of 7 levels, connected by staircases and cisterns and air shafts.  At one point, during persecution, many Christians lived in these underground cities to escape the wrath of authorities.  Later on, the caves were used as rebel military outposts.  Inside, the air is cool, becoming cooler the further we descended.  The passages became tighter and the stairs narrower.  A couple women on our tour became too claustrophobic and opted to leave early and wait for us up top.  We pressed on to see the living areas and even a church carved into the ground.  I can’t even imagine what it’d be like, living underground, but it’s quite fascinating nevertheless. 

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Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Ride

Posted: January 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | 5 Comments »

The one thing everyone recommends when in the Cappadocia region is to go on a hot air balloon ride.  Having never been on one before, we accepted the rather exorbitant cost (I have no frame of comparison, but it’s a bit more than I’d usually pay for any experience that lasted less than 2 hours) in exchange for a possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The van for Voyager Balloons picked us up from our hotel at 6am sharp and dropped us off at a small restaurant where we stumbled sleepily over to the hot tea and pastries.  Everyone sat around tables chattering, so we listened in while inhaling our sustenance. 



Splitting us up into two groups, we were loaded up into another van which took us to the site of the balloons, still lying limply on their sides when we arrived.  We watched with fascination and lots of camera-clicking as hot jets of flame brought the majestic balloons to life.  Most of the participants in our balloon were all part of a group, so they filled up one side of the basket.  We clambered in the other, along with our balloon pilot.  Our pilot and his partner did their safety spiel and we practiced the all-important landing position.  Rick sidled up next to me and whispered, "Are you going to be ok?"  I’m semi-acrophobic, so this was a very legitimate question. I answered, "I guess we’ll see in a moment." I had nothing to fear, however, for the balloon lifted up with a graceful smoothness.  My sister, who’d been on hot air balloons before, once said, "It’s not like you’re lifting up off the ground, but the ground is dropping away from you," which describes the sensation perfectly.  Soon, the entire snow-capped landscape of Goreme lay below us, still mostly in the shadowy grips of pre-dawn.  We oohed, we ahhed, camera shutters worked frantically, and we sailed over ancient rock formations covered in new-fallen frost. 



Dawn broke over the horizon, spilling golden light over everything, and then we flew high, higher, until we soared above the clouds.  A peaceful silence settled over all of us, only broken by shivering and the occasional snapshot.  Thank goodness the owner of our hotel advised us to wear two socks because the cold seeped through the bottom of the basket and soaked up through our feet. 


After about 45 minutes of flying, our pilot started bringing us down, hopefully somewhere near a waiting truck.  A hot air balloon pilot can only control the up and down direction of the balloon, so he had to bide his time adjusting our altitude until he could find a suitable landing area.  Soon, though, we could see the ground rising up below us and the pilot yelled for us to get into landing position.  In the tiny window cut into the side of the balloon basket, we watched as the level of the ground drew closer and closer.  We braced, but nothing could prepare us for the teeth-rattling bone-shaking landing.  Boom!  Bouncing back up, we hit the ground another 4 times.  By the end, everyone on our side was cheering and cries of indignation emitted from the other side.  Rick and I came to a stop lying face-up towards the sky.  We wiggled around to discover that the other half of our basket was completely buried in snow.  Figures covered completely in white clambered out and one girl said, "Oh, I’ve lost my shoe!"  A frantic search turned up her pink shoe about six inches away from her. 



For a while, we shivered in the foot-deep worth of snow by balloon, trying to warm ourselves by the flame.  Eventually, when the van to take us back didn’t turn up, it was decided we’d trek half a mile away.  We were freezing, but as we hiked, we counted ourselves blessed when we passed another hot air balloon from another company who’d ended up caught in a stand of trees.  Imagine that landing!  Finally we found our van and squeezed inside.  The girl who’d lost her shoe had also somehow developed an icicle on her scarf.  We slowly defrosted as our pilot passed around our certificates of completion.  The large group wanted to defrost further back at their hotel, but another girl travelling alone, Rick, and I decided we still wanted our champagne celebration. 


We arrived at their main office.  Our pilot, with much ceremony, uncorked our champagne and poured us all large glasses.  We cheered, we laughed, and cheered again.  Great fun, and yeah, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

The Bus Ride to Goreme and First Impressions

Posted: January 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

Our next stop was to Cappadocia (or Kapadokya as the locals say it).  I’d wanted to visit this fantasyland of fairy chimneys since my good friend visited it a few years ago.  Our 11-hour overnight bus ride started off fine.  We took the light rail to the bus station, confirmed our tickets at the bus office, dropped off our luggage, and had a light inexpensive dinner nearby while we waited.  We arrived back at the bus office about half an hour before our bus was to leave and was directed upstairs to wait again where we watched a partial episode of "Oses Turkiye" (Turkey’s version of "The Voice").  About 10 minutes before, I started becoming antsy.  No one had announced anything or even come get us, so I dragged Rick back down only to discover that almost everyone was already seated on the bus ready to go.  Yikes, if we hadn’t come down, would they have left without us?  No matter, we’d made it on the bus. 


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Things to Do in Istanbul

Posted: January 9th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | 4 Comments »


All right, brace yourself for a MASSIVE post, my friends.  There’s an awful lot of things to do in Istanbul, no matter your interests, and I’m going to tell you about a ton of them.  I’ve split them up into categories & marked all the free things to do in Istanbul with a ** designation before the activity (* if only sometimes free or parts of it are free).  So, if you’re on a budget, just scroll down & look for the pretty stars. 

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Tour Day 5: Pamukkale, Hieropolis, and Ephesus

Posted: December 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

We started bright and early this day.  We had a lot of sights to see and little natural daylight in the late autumn. 



Over an innumerable amount of years, calcium deposits left behind from the flowing water have created an otherworldly landscape of puffy white walls and dreamy terraces.  While it looks soft, to walk on it can be rather uncomfortable, the tender skin of my feet protesting the tiny ridges everywhere, rough as sandpaper.  The water, lukewarm, runs one way half the year, and then is redirected the other half in order to keep both sides of the cliffs a beautiful white instead of a withering green-black color. A true natural wonder.

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Tour Day 4: Thyatira, Sardis, Laodicea, and Philadelphia

Posted: December 20th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

On this day, we went on a marathon of ancient sites, hitting four cities in rapid succession.  Though it seems like it would be overwhelming, there’s actually not much left of these four sites, so it became a matter of driving, then hopping off for a half-hour to an hour look before climbing back into the van. 


18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ 26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’[b]—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

~Revelation 2:18-29


Located smack-dab in the middle of a residential area of the modern city of Akhisar, the ruins of Thyatira are still a mess of scattered artifacts. It’s difficult for them to expand the dig too much since residential apartments rise up all around the area, satellite dishes vying for space.  However, you can still see the outlines of walls and even an old baptism font. 

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