Remember When We Went to Israel?

Hello, friends.  Remember when we went to Israel and I was telling you all about it and then, I abruptly stopped in the middle?  It was not that I didn’t finish writing about it but because the Masada pictures kicked my butt.  I finished them today!  Here’s what happened:

Day 7, Sunday, October 17: Masada

Masada is about an hour outside of Jerusalem.  A little more to the East and bit further to the South. Since we were now experts on this drive we set out without any worries.  Though, we had never actually driven past Jerusalem and there was this one part that we needed to exit to the right without much notice.  No worries though because Dave can pretty much make any exit – with everyone still alive and not too scared.  Unfortunately, the police officer on the side of the road was not impressed with Dave’s lane change as he crossed the thick hatched lines, which would be like our double white lines on an exit ramp.

Good news!  The Israeli police officer was very nice and did not want to bother with much translating. Have a nice visit!  Wave to the baby and we were off, again.  It’s so nice to travel to places where the police don’t expect payment to get out of
traffic violations.

Almost immediately past this turn off we entered into the area run by the Palestinian Authority.  Again, it was pretty obvious
we were in a Muslim run area.  It was really run down, in comparison.  And, if that weren’t sign enough, the huge fences with barbed-wire tops were another indication.

It should be noted that this route is very safe.  The road itself is run and maintained by the Israelis.  You just make sure you pay attention to the signs that tell you not to get out of your
car and wander around.

We hit one checkpoint going into the region and one on our way out.  We were pretty used to this.  They check on lots of things in lots of places.  Our bags were regularly checked
and our trunk inspected just to park at the mall.

This drive from Jerusalem is really nice, as the majority of it runs south along the Dead Sea.  It is absolutely beautiful.  The water looks refreshing and blue.  You can easily see the mountains of Jordan on the other side.  The only indication that it is not a normal body of water is that there is very little activity.  No boats, jet skis, people along the beaches.  We did see a few boats when we were on top of Masada but not like you would expect on such a large body of water.  We also saw lots of jets patrolling the border.

We got to Masada around 10:30-11AM.  The facilities are
nice and air-conditioned.  Gotta’ give them credit they give you plenty of warning. It was a lot hotter than I expected – time of the year etc.   I’m not sure how much you would have to hate Cleopatra to decide this was the place to build your country house but it must have been a lot.

There’s a lot of great information out there about Masada and I’ll let you discover it but the short history is that Herod the Great built it in the 1st century B.C. as an escape from his enemies, both Roman and his own subjects.  It was a fete due to its impressive palace complexes, storehouses and unique water systems (he managed to get enough water up there to run the city and his bathhouses – both personal and public).  All of these features made it a natural refuge for the last Jewish rebels, against the Roman Empire, in 72 A.D.

For between one and four years 960 Jewish rebels lived here.
1,400-foot high cliffs were the only things separating them from thousands of Roman soldiers.  From the top you can see the remains of the eight Roman legionnaire camps surrounding Masada and you can actually walk up the ramp the Romans built on the western side.  However, most people walk up the eastern side because that is the direction most people drive in from (day tripping from the Dead Sea or Jerusalem) and it is also the location of the cable car.  The Snake path, used by Herod’s workers and the rebels, can also be hiked on the eastern side, if you’re into that sort of thing.  You cannot, however, hike up one side and down the other since a road does not connect the two sides.  You can get
around by-and-by but it’s about an hour and a half drive.

Anyhoo, long story short it didn’t end well for the rebels.  The night before the Romans were to break through, they drew lots to choose ten guys to kill everyone else. Then those ten guys drew lots to chose who would kill the remaining nine and then himself, in the end, only one person had to commit suicide (they know this because a couple of old ladies were not down with the plan and took a few children to hide in a cistern).

Not to keep you in suspense, we took the cable car.  Will
loved it and they were super nice to us and made me take the only seat since I had the baby.

The ruins are amazing.  Very extensive – that is my code for really big and seemed to go on for way too long when we got overheated and ridiculously sweaty.  Will was a pretty
good little trooper.  He walked all the steps down to the lower level of the Northern Palace and back up.  There were a lot of steps.

I’m not gonna’ lie, I waited at the middle level.  It was a
crap-ton load of stairs and they didn’t really know what was up with these different levels so, you know.  Plus, after reading the different research if we wanted to see the place where about
950 Jews died it was probably the Western Palace.  Seriously, who is going to march women and children down to these different levels? I am quite sure they didn’t have our nice and secure stair system either.  So, I caught ‘em on the flip
side and we continued our tour.

The storerooms were impressive.  They could have kept a lot
of stuff up there.   The bathhouses and entire water system were genius.  They found some mosaics and are restoring them; really beautiful.

While we were walking through the bathhouse we were sandwiched in between tour groups.  Will was kind of wandering with a little hand held fan with foam blades and sort of inadvertently stopping it with his face.   The tour guide behind us started spazzing out on him telling him to stop.
I guess she thought I would let my child wander around with something that could chop off his ear.  Before I could even explain to her that it was a foam fan Will turned to her and told
her, “No, it’s my fan!” – or something to that effect.

I guess kids don’t talk back in Germany because she looked totally taken aback.  I don’t even know if it counted as backtalk
since he thought some crazy stranger was trying to take his toy.  Anyway, she figured it out and one of the people in her group whispered to me, “Finally, someone put Helga in her place she’s been bossing us around all day!”

I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not but everyone seemed pretty entertained by the antics of SBW.  She certainly wasn’t one of the tour guides I would have asked for a card from.
There were a lot of really great ones up there though.  Apparently, to become a licensed tour guide in Israel it requires you to pass a pretty strenuous test on the history of
Israel and you have to maintain your licensure with more testing.  It’s nice to know not just any Schmoe with a
history book can be a tour guide.

Once we got past both palaces I was pretty wiped.  Apparently,
I was a nice shade of rose because Dave thought I was  sunburned but once we got back inside (after the cable car ride back down, of course) Will and I turned back to our normal skin colors.  It was hot!

We did lunch in the café.  Which was another excellent
cafeteria meal of real cooked food (as opposed to reheated baked fish sticks and veggies from a can) in Israel.  Mmmmm, falafel. After we recharged we headed out in search of the Dead Sea.

Now, I know you must be thinking, “You’ve already said that you saw it!”  Yes, but now we actually wanted to get into it and that required a beach.  You can’t just drive up to it.  It’s not a sandy beach but quite rocky and you also must have access to fresh water.

There are some really nice spas out that way with their own beaches, hot springs, mud etc.  We don’t roll like that.  We found the public beach, which was nice enough; though, not at all spa-like.  It was right where the guidebook said, behind the gas station.  Yup, there’s just the one.

It was perfectly serviceable.  Bathrooms were available
for 2 shekels (exchange rate was 3.7 shekels to 1 dollar).  And there was fresh water down closer to the beach.  I think there were a lot of Europeans here.  I heard a lot of different languages and saw a lot of Speedos and fat chicks in bikinis.  I wasn’t really sure if they were floating from the salt or their natural buoyancy.

Sure enough, we floated.  There was a surprisingly strong current.  Will liked it until he got a mouthful of saltwater.  It is just not like any saltwater you’ve ever gargled or gotten a mouthful of via an inadvertent wave to the face.  It’s not even like a mouthful of actual salt.  It’s more like if it were possible to press oil out of salt. When we got out we had a sheen that pure water could not eradicate.  It was a distinct and unique place.   I could easily see why people think it has special properties…supposedly.

Since we weren’t spa-ing we pretty much hit the road after fifteen minutes or so.  You’re not really supposed to stay in the
water much longer anyway.  That salt gets into every crevice so if you go you better hope you don’t have any gaping wounds.  That would hurt.  I could feel it in my blisters and little scrapes.  Plus, don’t forget to have plenty of water on hand.  The drive back to Herzliya Pituach was made better by several liters of water.

One night while at dinner our waiter asked what we were going to see and when we said the Dead Sea, Masada, Jerusalem he responded a bit haughtily, “Oh, the usual places.”  Well, they’re the usual places for a reason.  If we ever get to come back there is so much more I would love to explore but I can’t imagine coming to Israel and not seeing the Dead Sea and Masada.  They were breathtaking and worth every minute we spent there.

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