Thursday, 31 March 2011

Jerash, Jordan

Forty-eight kilometers north of Amman in the direction of Syria lies the city of Jerash, Jordan.

Jerash was our first taste of Jordan.


Within Jerash are the ruins of Gerasa, an ancient Greco-Roman city.

Man in Greco-Roman decor.

Gerasa was inhabited during the Bronze Age (3200 BC-1200 BC) and is part of The Decapolis (a group of 10 cities that were on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire).

Oval Forum

Cardo Maximus.

The South Theatre

The Hippodrome

Gerasa is known colloquially as "The Antioch on the Golden River."  (Antioch is an ancient city along the Orontes river in Turkey.  The "Golden River" is a nickname for the Wadi Jerash or Chrysorhoas River, a tributary of the Wadi Zarqa).

Creepy Jordanian millipede (they are everywhere in Gerasa).

The Cardo Maximus through an archway.

An engineering marvel.

Brilliant city, brilliant day.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Jerusalem (Mount of Olives), Israel

Walking out Lion's Gate of the Old City one encounters the Kidron Valley and, rising up above it, the Mount of Olives.  This is an area rich with religious history and it is mentioned frequently in the New Testament.

The first stop of the day was Mary's Tomb.  Interestingly, Christianity holds that Mary died of natural causes, and that on the third day after her death she was resurrected.  According to this tradition, her soul and body were taken up to heaven so that the tomb believed to be Mary's was found empty on the third day.

Mary's tomb is located down a long flight of dark stairs.  In this picture, I'm standing at the bottom.

Down the stairs there is a small chapel.  On the alter, a picture of Mary and Jesus.

  Incense burners were everywhere, even hanging from the ceiling.

The tomb believed to be Mary's.  As you can see, it is empty.  

Next to Mary's Tomb is the grotto where Jesus met with his disciples on a regular basis.


Across the street from Mary's Tomb and Jesus' Grotto is the Church of All Nations (aka. The Church of Agony).  This church is located next to the Garden of Gethsemane.  According to the bible, Jesus came to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray immediately after the Last Supper.  According to Mathew (26:42) in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus uttered the words, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.  Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it."  And later, "If this cup cannot pass by, but I must drink it, your will be done!"  In agony, it is said that his sweat was drops of blood.

Jesus was later arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Church of All Nations is a beautiful church.

Loved the windows.

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Mount of Olives also has the Jewish cemetery as well as astounding views of the Old City on the opposite side of the Kidron Valley.

Jewish cemetery.

Sister with donkey sitting outside of the Jewish cemetery.

View of the Dome of the Rock from the Mount of Olives.

Next, we visited Dominus Flevit, a Roman Catholic Church on the Mount of Olives.  According to the Gospel of Luke, it is here that Jesus began openly weeping when he predicted the Jewish diaspora (the forced expulsion of Israelites from parts of Israel, Lebanon and Jordan).  If you remember, Jesus was a Jew himself...

Dominus Flevit

On the Mount of Olives, there is also the Church of the Pater Noster, built at the place where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer (aka. Our Father).  As you can see from the picture below, the Our Father is shown outside the Pater Noster in dozens of different languages.

Our Fathers written in different languages outside Pater Noster

Finally, there is the Church of Mary Magdalene.  Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus (yes, not all of Jesus' disciples were men) witnessed Jesus' crucifixtion, burial, and was the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection.  As a historical character, I find her interesting because she's often portrayed as a "prostitute" in Christianity.  However, some Gnostic gospels describe her differently--as Jesus' greatest confidante.  There is even speculation (unsupported by the Catholic church, of course) that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' significant other and bore him a daughter.  I find this latter viewpoint most compelling. 

Mary Magdalene's Church, exterior.

Mary Magdalene's Church, interior.

This more or less capped off our day on the Mount of Olives.  There are several other churches to see, and I would recommend at least half a day.  Bring good walking shoes and water!  This is a hilly area.  

Friday, 25 March 2011

Ein Gedi, Israel

A highlight of Israel was taking a dip in the Dead Sea in Ein Gedi. 

That land mass on the other side of the Dead Sea is Jordan.

My camera died after just three pictures, so unfortunately you do not get the privilege of seeing me in a bathing suit.  Suffice it to say that you really can contort your body into some wild positions at the Dead Sea without sinking.  For instance, you can lie on your stomach with your lower legs pointed straight up in the air.  You can even sit cross-legged in the water holding a newspaper.

Just don't open your mouth because the water (due to it's high salinity and other dissolved minerals) tastes like caca.

Besides the wild positions and the horrible taste the other revelation I made in Ein Gedi is that the Dead Sea leaves an odd residue on the body.  It's a sort of salty, slimy residue that only came off my skin after a long, scalding hot shower back in Jerusalem.

Because Ein Gedi is only an hour from Jerusalem by bus, it's a perfect day trip for those visiting the Old City.

Jerusalem (Old City), Israel

Jerusalem is amazing.

The wall separating Jerusalem's New City from the Old City.

It's completely unlike Tel Aviv, but wonderful in it's own way.

The Old City of Jerusalem is separated into quarters.  There is the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter, the Jewish quarter and the Armenian quarter.  The former are obviously three of the world's major religions.  But why the Armenian quarter?  I was told that it's because the Kingdom of Armenia was the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as it's official religion (in year 301).  Today it's called the Republic of Armenia (a mountaineous, landlocked country bordered by Turkey, Georgia, and Iran) and recognizes separation of church and state.

The contrast between the quarters is fascinating. 

One of the highlights of the Jewish quarter is the Western (aka. Wailing) Wall.  It's located at the base of the Temple Mount (place where it's believed that God created Adam from the dust and Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac) and is one of the holiest sites in Judaism.  Apparently intentions placed in this wall have a high probability of coming true (there is also an online alternative, for those unable to make the trip to Jerusalem).

My intention.  Yes, I realize that I'm embarrassing myself yet again. 

Placing my intention in the Wailing Wall. 

Obviously many people make the pilgrimage here.

The exposed section of the Western Wall (where we prayed and placed our intentions) is separated into a male and a female section. 

The male side.  Spying on the men through my fence.

The female side. 

After visiting the Wailing Wall, we walked to the Muslim quarter through a maze of streets.

One of the highlights of the Muslim quarter is the Dome of the Rock.  According to Sunni Islamic tradition, the Dome of the Rock is the location where Muhammed ascended into heaven with the angel Gabriel.  Interestingly, the Foundation Stone (a stone located at the center of the Dome of the Rock) is important in Judaism.  Just as Muslims face Mecca during prayer, Jews face the Foundation Stone.  

Dome of the Rock taken from a distance.  Since we're not Muslim, we were not able to go inside at the time we visited.

In the Christian quarter, the highlight for me was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It's a beautiful, cavernous church.  Christian's believe that Jesus was crucified and buried at this spot.

It's gorgeous inside.

Calvary (Golgotha).  Traditionally regarded as the site of Jesus' crucifixation, Calvary is the most decorated part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Stone of Anointing.  Believed to be the spot where Jesus' body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea.

People waiting to go inside The Edicule at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Edicule has two rooms.  One room contains a fragment of the stone that is believed to have sealed Jesus' tomb.  The second room is believed to be the tomb itself.

Aside from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Christian quarter also has the Via Dolorosa.  For those familiar with the Stations of the Cross, it's the road Jesus walked with a cross on his shoulder before he was crucified.

Station Five (Simon Cyrene carries the cross) along the Via Dolorosa. 

There is much more than the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Via Dolorosa to see in Jerusalem, but this is just a taste. 

All I can say is:  incredible.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Dream Quotes

Some inspiration to follow your dreams...  (Pictures from Tel Aviv, Israel).

Quotes from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by leadership and life improvement guru Robin S. Sharma:

"When you figure out what your main aim or destiny really is, you will never have to work another day in your life...Your work will be play."

"There is nothing noble about being superior to some other person.  True nobility lies in being superior to your former self...Never get into the petty habit of measuring your self-worth against other people's net worth.  As Yogi Raman preached:  'Every second you spend thinking about someone else's dreams you take away from your own.'"

"Shortly after you have awakened, go into your sanctuary of silence.  Get still and focused.  Then ask yourself this question:  'What would I do today if today was my last?'"

"At first he thought about hiring a Sherpa guide to aid him in his climb through the mountains, but, for some strange reason, his instincts told him that this was one journey he would have to make alone.  So instead, for perhaps the first time in his life, he shed the shackles of reason and placed his trust in his intuition.  He felt he would be safe.  He somehow knew he would find what he was looking for.  So, with missionary zeal, he started to climb."

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.  Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens."
~Carl Jung

"When I was a kid, I dreamed such great dreams...Start thinking about your dreams for a change, just like when you were a little kid."

"The very fact that you have a desire or a dream means that you have the corresponding capacity to realize it.  This is one of the great universal truths."

"The secret of happiness is simple:  find out what you truly love to do and then direct all of your energy towards doing it.  If you study the happiest, healthiest, most satisfied people of our world, you will see that each and every one of them has found their passion in life, and then spent their days pursuing it."

"You will have to start taking risks.  Shake up your life a bit.  Get rid of the cobwebs.  Take the road less traveled.  Most people live within the confines of their comfort zone...Calculated risk taking will pay huge dividends...Discover your real reason for being here and then have the courage to act on it."

"Truly enlightened people never seek to be like others.  Rather, they seek to be superior to their former selves.  Don't race against others.  Race against yourself."

"When you dare to get out of your circle of comfort and explore the unknown you start to liberate your true human potential."

"We have all been granted a unique set of gifts and talents that will readily allow us to realize our lifework.  The key is to discover them, and in doing so, discover the main objective of our life."

"Never set a goal without attaching a timeline to it.  To breathe life into a goal you must attach a precise deadline to it."

"When you improve yourself, you are improving the lives of all those around you.  And when you have the courage to advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, you begin to draw upon the power of the universe."

"Act as if failure is impossible, and your success will be assured."

"I told you earlier that we have all been given certain talents.  Every single person on the planet is a genius...Everyone.  We all have something that we are meant to do."

"I am an artist at living - my work of art is my life."