Friday, February 3, 2012

Holy Land Tour - part 3

Jesus Pantocrator, ruler of the world.  Jusus, represented as a ruler, holds a volume of the New Testament.  Very rare Byzantine icon from the 7th century.

Before I start on part 3, I want to mention something about this morning’s news of 2 American women who were held hostage for several hours outside of St. Catherine’s by Bedouins. It’s a shame this happened and very scary. These women were with a small group of 5 plus a tour guide who were travelling in a mini-van without a Tourist Police representative. While there are dangers, even as far from Cairo as St. Catherine’s is, common sense should prevail and no one should travel in this small a group without the Tourist Police. This never would have happened with a larger group on a full size bus with the Tourist Police on board. I am very grateful we had them with us and I NEVER felt unsafe aboard our bus or at any stops our bus made.

Now, onto the continuing saga: After the church services were over, we went directly to the museum. St. Catherine’s has a large collection of Byzantine icons that are incredibly beautiful.
Icon of the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ

Icon of St. Catherine and scenes from her life and death.

They also have the Codex Syriacus which is the oldest translation of the Gospels.  It dates to the 5th century.

The Codex Syriacus

In the museum there is also  the actual letter written by Mohammed that granted the Monastery protection and patronage by the Moslems.

Handwritten letter from Mohammed assuring protection and patronage by Muslims

Another Icon of St. Catherine

Icon showing the Patron Saint for every day of the week.

Another Virgin and Child icon
The curator of the museum is Father Justin.  He spoke to our group along with the SMU Parsons Seminary group in the museum and answered our questions.  It turns out that Father Justin was born in Fort Worth.  Can you believe that?  We came half way around the world and found a monk who was born in Fort Worth!
After the museum tour, we went to our rooms where our luggage had been delivered by the Bedouins who work at the Monastery. After time “freshening up” and putting on more clothes, we went to the dining room for dinner. The dining room was nominally heated, so we ate our dinner all bundled up. After dinner we were sent to another building for our evening devotional. This room only had one kerosene heater and was even colder than the dining hall. We were all sitting in a circle getting ready to begin the devotional when we noticed Dad wasn’t inside. Shortly, he walked in, wearing a traditional arab headdress. We all laughed so hard! He said his head was cold and he bought one from a Bedouin who was selling hats, gloves, etc. outside the gift shop.
Because of the cold, and knowing it would be even colder at 2AM up on Mt. Sinai, only 5 brave souls decided to make the climb the next morning. Ken, Margo, Marty, Larry and Irene were our heroic climbers.
We all retired to our sparsely furnished guestrooms and snuggled in for the cold night.
Don't you just love the green stain on the wood paneling?  Those blankets on the bed were very warm and luckily there were two more in an armoire in the room.  We needed them!

The next morning we were up and in the dining hall at 7:30. Our valiant climbers were supposed to be back down by 8 or 8:30, but they didn’t show up until 9AM. The poor people were frozen and wind burned. Margo said she didn’t remember the climb being so hard the first time she did it 2 years ago. Although tired and cold, all 5 seemed very elated and each time a climber walked into the dining room they received applause and congratulations. Once our climbers had had a hot shower and breakfast, we all boarded our bus and headed out toward the border crossing to go to Jordan.

This border crossing is rather complicated. To get to Jordan, you have to cross a tiny portion of Israel. If you look at the map, you can see the city of Taba right at the tip of Israel. Once you get into Israel it’s a short drive to the Jordanian border. All of this border crossing had to be done on foot and carrying our own luggage, not to mention we needed wheelchairs for Ruby and Nell. Our bus dropped us at the Egyptian exit station and we all wished Bishoy many thanks for his wonderful guide services by singing “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. I think it embarrassed him! All of our luggage was unloaded from the bus and we grabbed our suitcases and other stuff and headed into the lines at the exit station, passports in hand. After being “stamped out” of Egypt we had to walk a distance to the Israeli side and go through security there. By the time we got through this, everyone was pretty cranky and tired.

Samir, our Israeli tour guide met us with a bus and we boarded for the drive to Aqaba where we would cross into Jordan. Luckily, we got to stop and have lunch at a great restaurant and Dad even bought a bottle of wine for the table to share. The food was good, the restrooms were clean and we were all fat and happy again. Back on the bus, we headed to the Jordanian crossing point. Once there we had to repeat the procedure from Egypt all over again. The difference was that the Israeli’s are very strict and non-smiling. We went through security again, then an even longer walk, dragging our luggage and tails behind us, to the Jordanian border where we were “stamped in”. My passport has 2 stamps from Egypt, 4 from Israel and 2 from Jordan.


Jordan - "In"

Jordan - "Out"

Israel - "In", "Out", "In", "Out"

Once again tired and dusty, we were greeted by our Jordanian guide, Zaid. We boarded the bus, luggage was loaded and off we went toward Petra.

By the way, we were provided bottled water on all three of our tour buses. In Egypt it was $1 American for 2 bottles of water, in Jordan it was free and in Israel it was $1 American per 1 bottle of water. The Jordanians even gave each person on the bus a gift wrapped box of cookies. Those cookies were wonderful and l decided to save mine and bring them home to Daniel because he really loves cookies!


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