I honestly didn’t know what to expect from our call at Jerusalem. Growing up Catholic I am very familiar with the stories and the significance of the place, but I never quite appreciated it fully until I was there.
Yesterday, Rotterdam called on Ashdod, Israel, gateway to Jerusalem. Starting over a month ago, I organized a special crew-only tour. The response was amazing! While normally I struggle to achieve the minimum number needed for a crew tour, this time an over-abundance of crew members signed up to visit the Holy Land. All told we had three tours encompassing over 120 crew members. The two main tours left in the morning with 102 crew and we arranged a special tour for our Muslim crew to visit the second most holy place in Islam, El Akza Mosque.
After the hour-long bus ride we arrived on the Mount of Olives for a stunning view of the old city of Jerusalem.
The Mount of Olives is famous in itself, as the Garden of Gethsemane is located there; unfortunately it was not on our tour. A quick ride down the mount and we were at the Jaffa Gate. The walls around the city of Jerusalem do not date back to the Biblical times, but were built when the Ottomans invaded and took control of the city. Passing through the gate we were now on some of the most holy ground in all the world. These same streets we were walking on were once used by Jesus, Mohammad and any number of saints, prophets and other religious figures.
Our first stop was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which honors the place that is believed to be where Jesus was crucified, prepared for burial and buried.
These three places are all under the same roof and, naturally, are very busy. It was truly amazing to be in a place of such history with so many people who had traveled so far to see it. Leaving the Church we stopped in a local market area for a bite to eat and to shop for some local handicrafts and souvenirs.
After enjoying our authentic Israeli meal — falafel or shawarma, some sweet cake bought off a street vendor and the most traditional of beverages all over the world, Coca-Cola — we set out to find some items to remember our trip to Jerusalem. As you might imagine, the most popular items are religious in nature, from menorahs to hand-carved nativity scenes to anything in between. The shops in Jerusalem like to haggle for price and we all got the deals we wanted on the items we purchased.
Next, it was off to Via Dolorosa, the Stations of the Cross.
The final Stations of the Cross are located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and so we followed the stations backwards from there. At each stop along the way there was a chapel with some form of stature or artwork. It was amazing to follow this path, though I imagine the copious souvenir shops and cell phone stores weren’t there as Jesus made his way up to Golgotha.
We finished our tour through the Holy City of Jerusalem with a stop at the famous “Western Wall.” It’s more popularly known as “The Wailing Wall.”
The Wailing Wall is the only original part left from the Second Temple of Jerusalem. It is about 6 meters high now; however, in its day it stood fully 60 meters tall. This is one of the holiest sites in Judaism. Worshipers visit and place their wishes and prayers on small scraps of paper that they wedge into the crevices of the rocks. Others stand and pray at the wall for hours on end. It was quite an amazing sight to see and a perfect way to end a perfect day in the center of three major religions.
We enjoyed a very quiet bus ride back to the ship. It was a great day in a great place. It’s off to Egypt now! More to come on that …
See you out there!
Anthony Garofalo is Rotterdam’s crew purer.