Friday, March 1, 2013

Masada.

At Masada with a view of the Dead Sea in the background.

This morning I had to be ready to be picked up by 6:30a - bright and early! Some guy named Zaki (sp?) would be by to pick me up.


I headed to the lobby around 6:15a to check out. There was no one else at the counter - too early, so it took me about 30 seconds to check out.

I went outside. It was a bit chilly so I decided to wait in the lobby. Anytime someone who looked like they could be a *Zaki*, I made sure I gave them eye contact in case they were looking for me.

6:30 came and went and then 6:45 came and went. No Zaki. I debated whether or not to call the tour company but I figured Uri wouldn't leave me behind. Most certainly, the others in the group would remind him about me if he so happened to forget.

I was head down, reading my guidebook, when I heard the receptionist call my name. There was a phone call for me. I guessed it was Uri and sure enough it was. Today is the Jerusalem marathon and the streets were being blocked in preparation. So, apparently, Zaki could not make his way to me so Uri would be by to pick me up.....in about 1/2hour.

I went back to my seat, took out my iPad and finished writing the blog posting for yesterday.

Again, the receptionist called me and again, it was Uri. He said he was about 150 meters away and to go out to the main road and to walk straight ahead. I quickly shoved my iPad into my backpack and scurried out of the hotel. I quickly walked up towards the main road and Uri was there to greet me. The van was parked a short distance away, behind tape barrier that had been put up to cordon off the street. Later, I found out that poor Uri had to try several times to get to my hotel. Eventually, he managed to convince a policeman to let him past the barrier by telling the man that he had to pick someone up and take them to the airport. Of course, you can't have someone miss their flight because of the marathon so the man let him across the barrier.

Uri quickly put my bag in the back and I got on board. Of course, everyone else was already there. Last night, Uri had swapped our original mini van for a larger vehicle because we were expecting two more couples to join us but when I boarded, it was only familiar faces that I saw. Apparently, one couple cancelled out at the last minute and the other couple.....they couldn't find them. Obviously, some mix up there. Anyway, I have to admit, it was nice to just have the three couples and Alina, me and Uri. It was a nice, small group.

Our first destination out of town would be Masada. Uri pulled onto the highway and I immediately recognized it as the one that I was on on my tour to Jericho.



Sure enough, we passed by the same Bedouin camps as well as the Sea Level sign. We also passed by Jericho and continued on towards Masada. At one point, we reached a roadside stop. Uri asked the gang if we wanted to break for breakfast now or later. The soft vote was "now" so Uri pulled over. The place had a carryout place that served breakfast sandwiches and hot drinks. I just wanted a small cup of coffee - have't had caffeine in more than a week and with the early wake-up this morning, I wanted something to get me going.

I stuffed my face at dinner last night so I didn't really need breakfast. I did break into the hamantashen though. Had one. Oh boy. It was good. I have a feeling I will finish the rest of the basket all by myself. Probably a zillion calories but I don't care. I'm on vacation. I'll eat lettuce when I get home.

We took a longer brekkie break than Uri had planned for but soon enough, he had us all back on the van. By 7:30a, we were back on the road.

The roads in Israel are very good - smooth pavement, good signage.

It wasn't long before the Dead Sea came into view. It was a beautiful shade of blueish green. I don't remember it being this color when I first saw it from the Jordanian side six years ago. I can't believe it was six years ago that I went on my Egypt/Jordan trip. What a memorable trip that was!

Every now and again, we would pass by an oasis.  Even in the desert, there's a lot of green areas.

View of the mountains facing the Dead Sea.

Uri in the driver's seat.  View of Dead Sea in the distance.

More Dead Sea Views from the front passenger seat.

About 45 minutes after we left our breakfast point, the Citadel of Masada came into a view - a very large free standing boulder with the top leveled off.

As Uri turned on to the road leading to the parking lot, I could see the cable cars that would take us up to the top and back down.

First view of Masada from the highway.

We would make our way up on one of those cars.  It would take about 45 minutes to walk up; it would take me longer :-(

Uri parked the van and we walked the short distance up to the entrance. While Uri bought our entry tickets, I took the opportunity to look at the display of art, presumably by local artists and the miniature model of Masada.


We followed Uri upstairs where there was a display of artifacts recovered from the site, including some coins. We also took in a quick movie about the site that featured snippets of scenes from the 1981 miniseries, by the same name, starring Peter O'Toole as the Roman legion commander who engineered the siege of Masada.



Next was to queue up to enter the cable car platform. There was a large group of Americans in front of us. I was so hoping they would be put in their own car but no luck, we were crammed in with them. I hate to say this but Americans are among the loudest of tourists and this group was no different. Each cable car holds up to 81 passengers and I think we were at maximum capacity. I was stuck a few bodies back from the window - I really didn't have much chance to take photos.

View looking back at the entrance; Dead Sea in the far distance.

The cable car platform at the top of Masada.  Uri has his hat on, ready to go!

It was only a 3 minute ride to the top. The cable car emptied out and like good tour group members, we followed Uri to the site. Wow! I'll always be amazed at how ancient civilizations could flatten the top of a mountain or boulder to create a city - Machu Picchu, Monte Alban, Sigiriya.....all variations on the theme.

As you can expect, the best part about building a city atop a hill is the view and Masada did not disappoint. The view of the Dead Sea from the top was simply spectacular!1

There is a path that winds its way around the site so all you have to do is follow that. Uri did point out that whenever we saw a black line, that meant that the stones below the line were the original ones from Masada and the ones above the lines are recent additions. I believe that there is a UNESCO requirement to identify what is original from what was added to help reconstruct the site.



We started our walk on the other side of the exterior walls of some of Masada's homes.

How the walls looked.

Just follow the path!



From pretty every spot we were at, we could see the turquoise colored waters of the Dead Sea.

A reminder of where were.

We saw the remnants of an old church with its beautiful stone mosaic floor and unusual stone studded walls.


From the outside of the church looking in.

The beautiful mosaic floor.

View of the area that would have been the apse.

Another view of one of the walls of the church and a small entryway.

We had amazing views of the surrounding desert!


Remnants of the ramp that the Romans built to undertake the siege of Masada.

The dovecoat. According to Uri, the doves were *one way* messengers - carrying messages to Jerusalem but never making it back because they could never find Masada.





It was essential for the residents of Masada to have water and so they constructed quite a few cisterns on the site.

Nearby the dovecoat was the synagogue. There was an actual bar mitzvah taking place at the synagogue so out of respect, I refrained from taking any photos or videos.

Another set of ruins.  These were nearby the synagogue.

More spectacular views of the Judean Desert. Uri pointed out the large squares outlined on the desert floor. Those demarcated the Roman camps that were created as part of the Masada miniseries set.


And of course, more views of the Dead Sea. I asked Alina to take a photo of me with the Dead Sea as the backdrop. I was standing on a platform that led up to the remains of Herod's Palace - one of several that he had constructed for himself but the only one that he never lived in or ever even visited.



There was a model of what archeologists believe Herod's Palace to have looked like. Magnificent for its time. Herod's Palace was built on three separate levels carved into the side of the rock. We were standing on the top tier and had a view over the other two.

Uri using the model to explain what Herod's Palace would have looked like.

Looking from the 3rd level down to the 2nd level of Herod's Palace.

The columns that would have supported the portico on the 3rd level.

From Herod's Palace, we made out way to what I think are the most spectacular ruins on the site - those of the Large Bathhouse. Romans are known for their baths and this is one of the best preserved ones I've seen.

Again, we started our walk with Uri giving us a tour using the miniature model.


Large bath and you can tell it's a bath because of the steps leading down into it.

The rooms of the bathhouse went from cold to hot. We started in the cold room. In the cold room, we could see remains of the murals that once decorated the walls as well as stone tiles that covered the floors. There were several small baths in the room.




The hot room was the most interesting room of all. The floor was suspended atop columns and there were clay pipes lining the walls. This is because on the outside of the room's wall, there was stove that would heat the air under the floor and heated water through the pipes - essentially heating the room. The brilliance of Roman engineering never ceases to amaze me!

Columns were used to suspend the floor above the ground.

The circular indentations in the wall were were the terracotta pipes were.

Reconstruction with the terracotta pipes in place and a floor over the columns.

Another view of the the wall indentations.  Roman engineers were brilliant!!

Outside the bath, this is the alcove where the stove was that was the source of heat for the bath.

We also saw a long, rectangular space that archeologists have identified as the communal dining hall. They came to this conclusion because immediately next door, they excavated a trove of pottery and other vessels for cooking and eating food. Nearby were located the storerooms, presumably for food storage.


It was a LOT of ruins to take in!

A LOT of ruins. After a while, it all started to really just look like an organized pile of rocks!

At this point our tour was over and we made our way back to the cable cars.


As we were walking the wooden bridge to reach the cable car platform, Uri pointed out the drains that the residents of Masada had built to capture rain water that washed down the sides of the boulder. The drain ended in yet another cistern. Uri told us that archeologists believe that the high number of cisterns at Masada are indication that there was more rainfall back in those days then in present day because even though it's winter now which is when rainfall is the highest in the desert, the cisterns were completely dry.


As we waited for the cable car to arrive, Uri borrowed a guitar from one of the musicians playing at the Bar Mitzvah and treated us to a bit of his own musical talent.


He's definitely a music lover and I'm sure, if give the opportunity, he would play more often - he seemed a bit rusty.  It was nice to hear him play - I missed the sound of music!



When the cable car arrived, the eight of us boarded.


I kept my fingers crossed that no one else would come on board and it was my lucky day!! We were the only passengers.

Down we went.



Back at the entrance, everyone scattered into directions - some headed to the shop, others to the restrooms. I headed to the shop and treated myself to a Cornetto ice cream - vanilla with walnut. Very, very delicious. Back in the van and on to our next destination!

It was a short visit to Masada but it was enough for me....at least for this trip. :-)

Next on our tour itinerary was Qumran, the location where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.