Category Archives: National Park or Forest

National Park or Forest

Reykjavik, Iceland JUN 9, 2023

Our second port was in southwestern Iceland near Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The area where the ship docked was industrial and not at all attractive.

This Side Of Ship Was Scenic

The city of Reykjavik was about two miles from the port. Usually visiting a capital city is high on our list, but today we booked an excursion into the countryside to explore why Iceland is called “the Land of Fire and Ice”.

The popular eight hour “Golden Circle” excursion began with cold, windy weather and pouring rain. At times I wondered how the bus driver could see between the fog and driving rain. We really couldn’t see much of anything out the bus windows, but our guide entertained us with facts and stories about her home country of Iceland.

When the Mountains Were pushed up under a Glacier They had Flat Tops

By the time we arrived at our first destination, the Haukadalur Geothermal Valley (Geysir, the Icelandic spelling of geyser) Hot Spring Area, the rain had let up enough that we could get off the bus without getting drenched. Geologists estimate this geothermal field has a surface area of about 1.1 square miles. The area became active more than a thousand years ago and consists of boiling mud pots and more than a dozen hot water blow holes, with the oldest dating back to 1294.

Earthquakes in southern Iceland have caused changes in the geothermal area, creating new hot springs. The most famous and active geyser is Strokkur which spouts water 100 feet into the air every few minutes.

We walked around the area and waited for the geyser to spout. It felt very similar to what we saw at Yellowstone National Park and the geothermal areas in New Zealand. It was so cold and windy!! But since the rain had let up, we had hope for better weather the rest of the day. 

Next up we traveled to Gullfoss Falls for lunch. We were at 66 degrees north of the equator.

A Popular Clothing Line is 66 North

The closest we had been to the Arctic Circle was at our last port of Isafjordur. When we found the geocaches there, that was the furthest north we had ever found a geocache. For lunch, the hot tomato soup was most welcome followed by fresh salmon on a bed of rice and vegetables. Since I don’t eat seafood, lunch was not the greatest for me. After lunch we were supposed to walk down to the waterfall. By now the rain was coming down in sheets blowing sideways in the wind. Even with rain gear there was no way to walk there and not get drenched. Our pants below the knees were wet just walking from the bus into the restaurant. We watched people coming back completely drenched and freezing from the cold wind and rain.  Our guide said she would walk down to the waterfall with anyone who wanted to go. Some brave souls, or crazy people depending on how you look at it, wanted to go. Bill and I decided we had seen a lot of waterfalls over the years and this one was just not worth it. We knew there was no way to keep from getting soaking wet and we would then have to sit the rest of the day with cold, wet clothes. I was proud of us for making a wise decision. Sure didn’t want another bout of bronchitis. 

Those who walked to the waterfall came back to the bus with wet coats, umbrellas, hats etc and no place to hang them to dry. I noticed our guide sat on a plastic bag because her pants were so wet. 

After that ordeal we had one more stop which turned out to be the most enjoyable of the day. The skies began to clear and the sun actually made an appearance. This stop was at Pingvollum National Park.

The region is part of the Atlantic ridge that runs through Iceland.

You can see the consequences of the sliding of the earth’s crust in the cracks and fissures of the area. We walked along a path where we could see the huge walls where the earth had cracked. The sun was out but it was deceiving. With the strong wind, it was really cold.

Our guide did a great job keeping us motivated and happy regardless of the weather. When we were walking along the path where the earth had cracked, she said she could remember walking on that same path with her father and how happy her father was because Iceland had just achieved its independence in 1944.

I would guess her age at somewhere in her 80’s. She certainly was energetic and spry in all that rainy, cold weather. I guess doing all those tours and getting so much exercise keeps her young. The Icelandic people must be a hearty people to deal with all that cold weather!

We found a waterfall crossing under the path.

As for us, we’ll take Florida! 

Some Iceland facts courtesy of our guide :

  • Reykjavik, Iceland is the northernmost capital in the world
  • Iceland is one of the youngest countries on the earth, if not the youngest, because it was formed from relatively recent earthquake activity
  • Where we were riding on the bus was the ocean floor 10,000 years ago
  • 5.8% of Iceland is uninhabitable 
  • At the turn of the century, 90% people farmed and fished. Today 7%. Tourism has overtaken the fishing industry
  • Icelanders are Scandinavian and Irish. Their language is from Nordic and Celtic origin
  • Women are 65% Celtic bloodline and 35% Scandinavian, Men are 65% Scandinavian and 35% Celtic
  • Most houses are heated with geothermal water
  • In 2008 all the banks went bankrupt
  • In 1989 it became legal to drink alcoholic beer 
  • There is a waiting list to get into prison because they have small prisons 
  • Crime rate is increasing due to more gangs but it is still a relatively safe country 
  • 87% of their energy is renewable 
  • Most of the oil is used for fishing boats
  • There are lots of greenhouses and Iceland has the biggest banana plantation in Europe
  • Because of earthquakes there are strict building codes
  • In towns with geothermal activity, there are no basements and cemeteries because of what is hot underground. People are buried in nearby towns. 
  • Iceland was ruled by Denmark for a long time. In 1918 they became sovereign and in 1944 became a republic. 
  • In 1986 they elected their first woman president
  • The national parliament of Iceland is the oldest legislature in the world that has been abolished and subsequently re-established. founded in 930.

Next up:  Alesund, Norway


Israel, Day 4 MAR 25, 2023

Day 4 found us up early with another busy day ahead. After breakfast we loaded onto the bus for the trip to the amazing Masada National Park.

Masada is an ancient mountainous fortress in the Judean Desert on a massive plateau 1,500 feet above the Dead Sea. It was built around 30 B.C. by King Herod the Great and is the site of the Jews last stand against the Romans after the fall of Jerusalem in 68 A.D. It is thought to be one of the greatest archeological sites in Israel. 

You can access this mountain fortress either by cable car or by foot on the Snake Path Trail. Fortunately we were able to ride the cable car but we were packed in like sardines.

Our pastor, who is a marathon runner, decided to run up the trail to the top. This was after he had already gotten up at 5:00 A.M. and run seven miles! He has taken this personal challenge before and with his son.

Our Pastor Running up to Meet our Cable Car

The Trail Also Had A Group Walking Down

King Herod built two magnificent palaces, one of which was built on three terraces, a huge fortress, swimming pools, water reservoirs, huge amounts of storehouses and an armory all on this mountaintop with spectacular views.

Columns Were Covered to hide The Red Stone

Hot Water was Channeled From the Furnace

Black painted lines are everywhere to show the original wall (below the line) with the reconstructed wall above the painted line.

Painted Walls Were Preserved

A Model Of The Fortress/Palace

Original stones were used during reconstruction.  Masada had its own “watergate”, a path on which beasts of burden carried water from the channels at a gate up to some cisterns at the mountaintop. Stone paving at the gate prevented damage from the animals’ hooves.

Nice Walkways Made Exploring Easy

Decades later, in the last days of the Great Jewish Revolt when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a Jewish group took possession of Masada from the Roman garrison there and lived there for three years. This was the last stand for almost 1,000 Jewish Macabbean/Sicarii men, women and children who decided to commit suicide as free people rather than fall into the hands of the Romans.

The siege of Masada by Roman troops occurred from 73 to 74 A.D. The Roman army military camps appear as square areas on the surrounding countryside.

The Square Was a Military Camp

The Square Was another Military Camp

The Roman army (15,000) would not give up so they built a siege ramp to attack the upper wall.

As the Roman battering ram breached the fortress walls, the Jewish rebels realized winning was hopeless. Refusing to surrender and end up as slaves or killed, they set fire to their homes and warehouses and chose ten men by lottery who were to kill the other 960 men, women and children.

The Lots Stones Used to Select the Final Ten

The last ten men then committed suicide. When the Romans made it to the top, they found everyone dead except for two women and five children who survived by hiding. 

Masada was extensively excavated between 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by Israeli archaeologist and former military Chief-of-Staff Yigael Yadin. One of the most remarkable archeological finds was the synagogue, built during the times of King Herod and one of the oldest on Earth. In one of the rooms they found the oldest parts of Torah scrolls ever found. 

They found perfectly preserved water reservoirs, cisterns, a Roman style bathhouse and the remains of a Byzantine church.  The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the fifth and sixth centuries have been excavated on the plateau.

The Church Wall

Another Wall in the Church

A Floor in the Church

Masada is a UNESCO site, a symbol of heroism and man’s struggle for freedom. A 1981 American miniseries starring Peter O’Toole described Masada’s last stand. Books have also been written about Masada. 

After lunch we visited the Qaser Al-Yahud Baptism Site, the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. It is also identified with the place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River after 40 years of wandering in the desert. (Joshua 3)  Ancient traditions also associate this site with the place where Elijah the prophet ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. (2 Kings 2)

On the way we drove along the border of Israel and Jordan, with landmine warnings dotting the landscape. The Jordan River is the 1994 treaty line between Israel and Jordan.

Historic Greek Flag Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher

Years ago our pastor used to baptize people at this location, but over the years the water has gotten more polluted and dangerous. The last time he conducted baptisms here he slipped and cut his foot on some metal. He ended up in the hospital with a very serious infection. Since then his church group baptism site was moved to a different section of the Jordan River that is cleaner and safer.

This is Not Our Group

There were some people being baptized today in the coffee-colored water.

This is Not Our Group

Directly across from us was the country of Jordan with Jordanian soldiers keeping watch. Our pastor read scripture and we sang several hymns, all within listening distance of the watchful soldiers.

Across The River is Jordan with Two Armed Soldiers

This is an Israeli Armed Soldier

We ended the day earlier than usual since it was the Sabbath and many things were closed. The group was thankful because we were all feeling the effects of the long, arduous days. 

Next Up: Day 5, Bethlehem


Israel, Day 3 Part 2 MAR 24, 2023

Day 3 in the afternoon found us at Wadi Qelt, a deep, narrow gorge in the Judean Wilderness that extends 17 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho and is thought to be the location of the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4) During Jesus’ time, the Romans had built a road through this region, a road so well engineered that it is used by tourists today. The parable of the traveler and the Good Samaritan is thought to have occurred near here. Shepherds today still lead sheep and goats along the path to the spring fed waters of the Wilderness. It is thought that David wrote the 23rd Psalm while sitting in this area.

Today the monastery of St George, built in the late fifth century, is tucked within the walls of the gorge. It is one of the oldest monasteries of the Byzantine desert monks in the Holy Land. It was built around a cave that Greek Orthodox tradition associates with Elijah’s cave of Horeb (1 Kings 19) and the place where an angel revealed to Joachim that his wife Anne would bear the Virgin Mary. The central church of the monastery is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Next we visited Qumran National Park. In the 2nd century B.C., Qumran was settled by members of the Essene sect, the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to stories from that time, a Bedouin boy searching for a lost goat threw a stone into one of the caves along the Dead Sea and heard a jar breaking in the caves. After searching the caves he found first three, and then four jars, the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Great Isaiah Scroll is one of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in 1947. It is the largest and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one that is almost complete. Dating from 125 B.C., it is currently on display at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

More Caves

This led to scholars scrambling to the neighboring caves where over the span of several years, scrolls were discovered in eleven caves, some in jars and some in fragments of jars. It is thought the scrolls were hidden from the Romans in jars in the caves. The scrolls are sections of some 800 books from Second Temple times. Other scrolls may have been brought by priests from Jerusalem for safekeeping when the Holy City was under attack. The scrolls comprise Old Testament biblical books, except for the book of Esther. The discovery of the scrolls led to the excavation of the area where ruins of the Essene and Qumran communities were found.

Water Cistern

It is thought possible that John the Baptist was either part of these communities or visited here, perhaps baptizing members of the communities in the Jordan River north of here. 

We finished the day at the Dead Sea where we would be staying for two nights. The Dead Sea is not a sea at all but a lake. It is 1,412 feet below sea level, making it the lowest elevation on Earth. It is 997 feet deep and 34% salt, making it the world’s saltiest body of water, 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. The salinity keeps any plants or animals from living there, hence the name. It has attracted visitors for thousands of years because of its health benefits. It was a health resort for Herod the Great and attracts tourists today from Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. Our guide, Mike, said his family loves to come here on the weekends because of the health benefits.

We had all been encouraged to float in the Dead Sea (because of the salinity you can’t swim, you float). We were also warned many times not to get the water in your eyes, mouth or nose because of the salt. In other words, keep your face out of the water. It was a pleasant but strange experience.

You walk into the water up to your knees, sit down and you immediately start to float. Getting your feet under you to get out is a bit of a struggle. Tap the picture below to see video.

The Dead Sea was a five minute walk from the hotel. On the walk back we saw a McDonald’s with a revolving sign.

Mike said the first McDonald’s came to Israel in 1997. Interestingly, we asked about Subway shops since they seem to be in every country we have visited over the years. He said there are no Subway restaurants in Israel. In fact we saw very few fast food restaurants of any kind in Israel. 

Next up: Day 4, a cable car ride and the site of Jesus’ baptism

Israel Day 2, Part 2 MAR 23, 2023

In the afternoon of Day 2 we went to Tabgha, Capharnaum (also known as Capernaum) and Mount of the Beatitudes.
The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha is a replica built in 1982 of the original 5th century church, but much of the mosaic floor is original. Glass panels in the floor reveal remains of the original church. Beneath the altar is a rock, believed to be the rock in which Jesus performed a miracle with the multiplication of loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-44).

The mosaic in front of the altar is the most famous in the country. 

Mosaics that is preserved from the Byzantine period at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes July 23, 2009. Photo by Rishwanth Jayap

Capharnaum, also known as Jesus’s adopted hometown since he spent so much time there staying in Peter’s house, is where many events in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus took place (Matthew 4:13). He performed many miracles here including the healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof of Peter’s house, feeding of the five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and fish, as well as when Jesus preached the famous “I Am the Bread of Life” sermon.

Capharnaum was a key transit point between the land of Herod and his brother Philip and therefore earned substantial revenue from taxes and import duties. The  town was an important pilgrimage center for early Christians.

We visited the site of the House of Peter where a 5th century octagonal church was built over the archeological ruins.

The Mount of Beatitudes is a hill and the traditional site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is 82 feet below sea level and 656 feet above the Sea of Galilee, making it one of the lowest summits in the world.

The Church of the Beatitudes is an octagonal building built in 1938. The eight sides of the church represent the eight beatitudes or blessings recited by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount which are also shown in the eight stained glass windows on each side of the church.

Our next stop was Magdala and then Arbel National Park. Magdala is an ancient Jewish city believed to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene.

The inside of the first-century A.D. synagogue at the ancient city of Magdala in Israel,

Archeologists found the Magdala stone which has a seven branched menorah carved on it. Presumably, the front and sides of the stone carvings represent the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the back side depicting wheels and fire represents the Holy of Holies.

the Magdala stone represents the oldest known sculpture of a menorah.

Arbel National Park is a mountain with a dramatic cliff where a cave fortress is carved into the rock, along with ruins of an ancient first century synagogue and the site of a famous battle. The fortification was built by the Galilean Jews who barricaded themselves here around 37 B.C. Herod’s army was sent to overcome the rebels and was only able to do so after he lowered his best warriors in cages suspended by ropes. Arbel has one hundred caves within its mountain slope, scenes of many bloody battles.

This area of Magdala and Arbel is the path Jesus took when he traveled from his hometown of Nazareth to his adopted home at Capharnaum. 

We finished the day walking in Jesus’ footsteps in the Valley of the Doves. Jesus traveled this route many times as he made his way back and forth from the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. It is called Valley of the Doves because as the wind blows between two mountains into the valley, it makes a sound like the flapping of dove wings. A beautiful, quiet, peaceful area where you could imagine Jesus walking beside you.

Can you believe we covered all this in one day? Spiritually enlightening and physically exhausting. Lots of prayers, Bible readings and hymn singing. Lots of walking and stairs. 

Next up: Jericho, the Dead Sea and so much more!! 

Israel Day 2, Part 1 MAR 23, 2023

Our second day touring Israel had us up for a 5:45 A.M. wakeup call and all aboard the bus by 7:15. Since we were staying at this hotel in Tiberias for two nights, at least we didn’t have to deal with luggage. An extra early wakeup call meant we had lots to see and do today. Many places we visited each day required reservations, so we had a tight schedule to keep.

It was a beautiful start to the day overlooking the Sea of Galilee. First up today was a drive into the countryside to Banias, otherwise known as Caesarea Philippi National Park, a region in the Golan Heights. This is a very fertile area of Israel with snow capped mountains in the distance. We drove very close to Israel’s border with Jordan and Syria and along the side of the road we saw many signs warning of land mines.

Here we found the cave of Pan and the remains of a temple built by King Herod to the Greek god Pan. The huge cave, where a spring is located, was thought to be the gates of Hades, a connection to the Underworld. Pan was thought to be a god of the wild, shepherds and flocks. Sacrifices to the gods were hurled into the cave.

According to the Gospels, after Herod Antipas of Galilee murdered John the Baptist, Jesus took his disciples into this territory. Amid the temples to Caesar and pagan gods, as well as the entranceway to Hades, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27) And Peter responds, “You are the Christ”. (Mark 8:29) Jesus answers, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The  gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-20).

Next we continued to the Yigal Allon Center which is home to an ancient 2,000 year old boat found off the coast of the Sea of Galilee. During a drought in 1986 the wooden boat embedded in silt was discovered. Archeologists, scientists and volunteers worked for ten days and nights to free the boat from the mud before the water table began to rise again and flood the boat.

A Model of the Boat

2,000 Year Old Rescued Boat

We then took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It is not really a sea but a lake. At 700 hundred feet below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on the planet. It is formed by the Jordan River on its northern shore and is approximately 13 miles long, 7.5 miles wide and 140 feet deep. Surrounded by mountains and valleys, there can be a rise of sudden storms. It supplies Israel with fresh water for drinking and irrigation, as well as a vibrant fishing industry today, as in the time of Jesus.

A Boat Like Ours

The boat ride took us offshore where we had a church service. Before the service, an American flag was hoisted as we sang our national anthem.

Pastor Harold preached a brief sermon and we sang hymns. What a beautiful experience on The Sea of Galilee. 

Many momentous events in the life of Jesus occurred on the Sea of Galilee:

  • Jesus calmed the sea (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25)
  • Jesus walks on the surface of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45-53, John 6:16-21, Matthew 14:22-33).
  • Other miracles were, when Jesus feed thousands of people  (Matthew 15:29-39, Luke 9:10-17).
  • Jesus taught the crowds by the shore (Mark 4:1-34) and preached while standing in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 13:2)
  • Before his Ascension, Jesus appeared in His resurrected body to seven of his disciples for a final miracle catch of fish by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14)

After all this, it is hard to believe there was more on today’s schedule, but there was!

Next up: Day 2, Part 2

Israel Day 3, Part 1 MAR 24, 2023

Day 3 we were up early, this time with our packed luggage since it was moving day. After breakfast it was time to board the bus where we had morning devotions and sang hymns along the way.

First stop today was Beit She’an National Park. Here, excavations discovered the ruins of at least 15 Roman and Byzantine cities layered on top of one another, estimated at 4,000-6,000 B.C. It is believed the population here was around 40,000 to 70,000 during the first and second centuries.

Model of the City

David’s mentor, King Saul and three of Saul’s sons were hung here on the city wall at the hands of the Philistines. It is thought that Jesus may have visited this area on his way to pilgrimages in Jerusalem.

Heated Water was Under the Floor of the Bathhouse

Mike, our guide, told us the area would be crowded today because 50 busloads of Indonesians were also visiting. As we neared the 7,000 seat Roman amphitheater built at the end of the 2nd century, we heard loud music and singing.

We were surprised to see a large gathering of Indonesians singing and praising Jesus. I recorded part of it with my phone. Tap the picture below to see video.

Later while exploring more of the area behind the amphitheater, we heard them singing “How Great Thou Art”. Just  beautiful. It is these unexpected encounters that are so special! Tap the picture below to see video.

In 749 the city was completely destroyed by a powerful earthquake.

We began to see a distinct change in the topography from fertile valleys to desert as we made our way to the Dead Sea. 

Next was Jericho where we spent quite a bit of time today. At 1,300 feet below sea level Jericho is the lowest city in the world. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back 11,000 years.

With city walls built ten thousand years ago, it is the oldest city on earth. We could see some of the remains of the walls of Jericho. The ancient settlement was surrounded by a massive stone wall over 12 FT high and 6 FT wide at the base, inside of which stood a stone tower, over 28 FT high. The excavated tower in 1930, here is the oldest human structure in the world to date (Stone Age 8,000 B.C.).

This is an Excavated 28 FT Tower

From Jericho we could see Mount Nebo and the area where God showed Moses the Promised Land and Joshua brought the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Jericho was the first Canaanite city they encountered.

Mount of Temptation, is a northwest mountain over the town of Jericho, where Jesus went off to pray and was tempted by the devil.

Mount of Temptation

During our eight days in Israel we were kept so busy we were not given many opportunities for shopping, but we did visit a shop here where they were selling spiced nuts and fresh dates. They had special mud bath lotions from the Dead Sea that are supposed to make you look twenty years younger. One clerk rubbed some on our arms to try it out. He then used a magnet to easily remove it. Of course there were plenty of Dead Sea beauty products to purchase. I passed.

We had lunch in Jericho and then everyone was given an opportunity to ride a camel. Five dollars for a three minute ride around the parking lot. Bill and I had both ridden a camel before so we passed this time. I felt sorry for the one poor camel who had to give rides to two bus loads of people. Our camel in Missouri had stairs to get on/off the camel while this camel laid down and got up for each rider. Our guide said the camel was well cared for by his owner and was taken to the vet for checkups. Sadly he didn’t look that healthy to us.

We stopped at Zacchaeus’ Sycamore Tree. Whether this is the exact tree Zacchaeus climbed is not known, but tests have shown that this tree is over 2,000 years old and stands in the same setting as the Biblical sycamore tree.

Luke 19:1-10 tells how Jesus entered Jericho and encountered Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. Jesus stayed at Zacchaeus’ home to the dismay of his followers who saw Zacchaeus as a sinner. Zacchaeus then offered half his possessions as a gift to the poor and to compensate anyone he had cheated by four times the amount of money. The story is another example of Jesus reaching out to a sinner and offering salvation. 

Next up: Day 3 Part 2 Valley of the Shadow of Death, the Dead Sea Scrolls and floating in the Dead Sea 

Israel, Day 1 Part 2, MAR 22, 2023

Continuing on with the afternoon of our first day, after leaving Caesarea, we continued on to Tel Megiddo National Park, an ancient fortress ranging from 7000 B.C. to 332 B.C. The word “tel” means a hill created by many generations living and rebuilding in the same spot. Megiddo was one of the strongest and most important cities of Canaan. The remains of the palaces, temples, gates, and the sophisticated water system of the city are evidence of its great power, including the days of David and Solomon.

The symbol of the lion of the tribe of Judah was found at Megiddo. The book of Revelation references this symbol.

Since 1903 different archeological excavations have revealed at least twenty cities buried here, one on top of the other. It is the location of the first major battle recorded in history. Many battles have taken place at this site, including the improbable victory of the Israelite over the Canaanite forces which was celebrated in the oldest poem in the Bible, “Deborah’s Song” (Judges 5). 

View of the Jezreel Valley from the hilltop

In order to make the water supply more accessible and less vulnerable to attack, a 98 foot shaft and 230 foot tunnel was built to the spring. We were able to access this shaft and tunnel using modern steps located to the right of the still visible ancient steps. Our guide, Mike, gave everyone the choice of taking an easy shortcut back to the bus, or taking the longer and more difficult passage through the tunnel. Of course Bill and I took the more difficult route. I just wish Mike had been a little more descriptive of what the harder route was like. We descended 187 steps that were narrow, worn stone steps into a dark vertical shaft. The stone stairs at some point were replaced by open metal stairs with just enough light to see down into the shaft which gave one a sense of vertigo. We exited by climbing up 77 steps that left us winded.

Megiddo was conquered 25 times so it is seen as the likely location of Armageddon, the last great battle between good and evil at the End of Days when the forces of good will triumph over evil as described in Revelation. The word Armageddon is a combination of two words, Har Megiddo. Har means mountain or in this case Tel. Thus, Armageddon is Tel Megiddo. The name Megiddo appears eleven times in the Bible.

Leaving Tel Megiddo we passed through Nazareth on our way to Mount Precipice. We walked on part of The Gospel Trail, a 40 mile historical path that Jesus is believed to have taken when he left his childhood home in Nazareth for Capernicum on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which became the center of his ministry. The main section of the trail begins at Mount Precipice, a steep hill on the southern outskirts of Nazareth. We climbed a steep path to the top, and with a beautiful view of Jezreel Valley, our pastor read scripture and we sang several hymns. For Christians, Mount Tabor is believed to be the place of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, where Jesus began to radiate light and conversed with Moses and Elijah.

Mount Tabor

Mount Precipice is the location described in the New Testament (Luke 4:29-30) where Jesus angered the congregation of the synagogue in Nazareth when he hinted he was the Messiah. The people led him out of the city and were going to throw him from the top of Mount Precipice but he managed to escape and reach safety. After this, Jesus left Nazareth and headed to the Sea of Galilee. This is where the beginning of Jesus’s ministry really began.

Our First View of the Sea of Galilee

Our last stop of the day was at a baptism site on the Jordan River. Anyone who wanted to be baptized or rededicated could have this done by our pastor, assisted by Pastor Don Piper. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, closer to the Dead Sea. Our baptism site was not the location of Jesus’s baptism.  Years ago our pastor baptized people at the actual site but that section of the Jordan River is more polluted and unsafe. The last time our pastor used that site he slipped on a metal rail and badly cut his foot. It became infected and he was hospitalized. Now he uses a different site that is cleaner and safer with nice facilities. For $15 per person we received the use of a baptism gown as well as clean dressing rooms with restrooms and showers. Bill and I had both been baptized before, so this was technically a rededicating of our life to Jesus. I went first and then stood nearby while Bill was rededicated and we walked out of the water together. We had all been warned the water was very cold, and it was! It was a beautiful, meaningful experience and 85 people from our group were baptized or rededicated!

Our first day ended at Tiberias, where we would spend two nights. As you can already tell, our days were very full, usually up at 5:45 or 6:00 A.M., finishing each day around 5:00 or 5:30. We had been told when we signed up for the trip that it would involve lots of physical activity. But I think everyone, us included, was surprised at the amount of physical exertion expected of us every day. Usually 5+ miles a day of walking over hilly or unlevel terrain, cobblestone walkways and many, many stairs.

Next up: Day 2: a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, the Beatitudes and City of Magdala


Israel Day 1, Part 1 MAR 22, 2023

Bill and I have wanted to visit the Holy Land for a long time, so when our pastor announced he was going to take a group to Israel, we jumped at the chance. We knew this was going to be a Bible based itinerary since our pastor had made nine previous trips to the area and knew the best guides and important places to visit. 

We had been on a previous bus tour of Europe and knew all too well how tiring it could be; getting up very early, packing and unpacking when changing hotels, becoming accustomed to different food, and most importantly the seven hour time difference. So to help with the adjustment, several weeks before the trip we began to slowly adjust our schedule to Israel time.  By the day of the trip, we were getting up at 2:00 A.M. with breakfast at 2:30 A.M., lunch at 8:00 A.M., dinner at 12:00 P.M. and bedtime at 5:00 P.M. I think it really helped us adjust when we got to Israel. 

On March 20th we left the church parking lot by bus for the trip to the Orlando airport. We had 100 people, along with our pastor, so two buses were needed. We flew from Orlando to Frankfurt, Germany (9 hour flight) where we had a 4 hour layover before our 4 hour flight from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv, Israel.

We arrived in Tel Aviv at 7:15 P.M. on March 21st. We had lost a day due to the time difference and long flight. After collecting our luggage and going through passport control, we were divided into two groups and met our guides for the week. Our guide, Mike, led us through the airport to a waiting bus for the trip to Netanya where we stayed for one night. We arrived at the hotel at 10:00 P.M. and the hotel staff had thoughtfully kept the dining room open for us with an impressive buffet. Everyone was really hungry since the food we had received on our two flights was, everyone agreed, beyond terrible. 

We had a 6:00 A.M. wakeup call (we were really glad we had prepared ahead for the time change) followed by breakfast at 6:30 and all aboard the bus at 7:15 with our luggage. People were dragging after the long flights and seven  hour time change. Our guide, Mike, would often say each morning during the trip, “Wake Up America!!! You can sleep when you get home!” Mike is from Israel, a Christian, has done many of these trips for our pastor and has visited our church in The Village with his family. We were absolutely amazed at the amount of knowledge Mike has about the Bible, the history of Christianity and lots of Israel history.

Mike’s brother Mick was the guide for the other bus (50 people on each bus). Along with our pastor, Harold Hendren, we also had pastor Don Piper, author of the New York Times bestselling book “Ninety Minutes in Heaven“. I highly recommend you read his book. Our pastor is a very good friend of Don Piper and they have done this trip together many times. The two pastors took turns sitting on the buses each day so we always had a pastor to do devotions and read scriptures. 

By the way, since Israel is 73% Jewish, 18% Muslim and only 2% Christian, it became painfully obvious to some people at breakfast that there would be no bacon, sausage or ham at breakfast or any meal for the duration of the trip. Also, according to kosher tradition, any food categorized as meat may never be served or eaten at the same meal as a dairy product. This was evident at various meals as people looked for butter and milk. 

We left our hotel, on the Mediterranean Sea, in Netanya, noticing that roundabouts are popular in Israel just like in The Villages.

Our first stop was Caesarea National Park located right off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and considered one of Israel’s great archeological treasures.

Caesarea was a gift to Herod the Great from Augustus Caesar in 30 B.C. Herod constructed a new city here from 22-10 B.C. The Roman amphitheater seated 4,000 people and is where the Caesarea citizens (estimated at 40,000) were entertained. Except for the original first row, most of the seats have been restored. Today the theater is used for concerts.

Pontius Pilate resided here and his name was found inscribed on excavated stones of the theater. The inscription is one of the few physical pieces of evidence of Pilate’s existence other than the Bible.

It was here in Caesarea that Apostle Peter became convinced of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah that God would make of them a nation, give them land, and through them the Gentiles would be blessed by coming to know the world’s only true God (Genesis 12:1-3). Christianity as a religion of Jews and Gentiles, the God of Abraham and Sarah, started in Caesarea.

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is the remains of a large oval amphitheater where Herod held celebratory games and chariot races.

We were surprised that we were allowed to walk on the remains of the beautiful mosaic tiled floors.

I thought they would have been roped off to preservation. 

Located here is the prison of Caesarea where it is believed Paul was tried and imprisoned for two years according to the New Testament.

Nearby are aqueducts that provided water to the expanding city of Caesarea. The aqueducts originally reached five miles with 3 water channels on top of it and were later extended.

Next up: Tel Megiddo National Park, Mount of Precipice and our baptism/re-dedication 

Valley Forge, PA NOV 13, 2022

After staying the night near Philadelphia, we left the next morning for Valley Forge National Historical Park.

It was windy and very cold, the coldest day of the trip. It was a bit of a hike uphill from the parking lot to the Valley Forge Visitors Center, and the biting wind took our breath away.

The Visitors Center had many wonderful exhibits and a film, “Determined To Persevere, the Valley Forge Encampment”. The park has over 2 million visitors a year. 

Valley Forge is where General George Washington and the Continental Army wintered from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778.  In December, 1777, 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children marched into Valley Forge to build what would become the fourth largest “city” in the United States at that time. Many of the women were married to the soldiers or had been widowed in the war. They cooked, did laundry, gathered wood, guarded weapons, served as spies and served as nurses. The Valley Forge encampment lasted six months with two miles of fortifications and 1,200 log huts made of wood with straw walls, tightly packed clay and wood burning fireplaces.

The men had limited supplies and tools, dragging logs, some weighing hundreds of pounds, through cold mud. Much like any city, there were free and enslaved African Americans and Indians, the wealthy and impoverished, immigrants from England, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Prussia and Scotland, as well as those of different religions. Nearly 35 percent of the Army did not speak English as their primary language. 

At the time the British had taken over Philadelphia and General Washington decided to winter his troops at Valley Forge, a day’s march from Philadelphia.

While at Valley Forge they could train the soldiers and recoup from the year’s battles, while sitting out the winter weather and waiting for more supplies. Even before fleeing Philadelphia, the Continental Congress had struggled to support the war effort with sufficient food, clothing and equipment. One of the displays said a letter written by a soldier said half the men were almost naked with tattered clothing, walking barefoot on frozen ground with neither coats, hats, shirts or shoes. While at Valley Forge, conditions reached their worst. While it was beneficial to have all the troops together for training and to resist British attack, it was detrimental when influenza, dysentery, smallpox, pneumonia and typhoid spread throughout the encampment. Nearly 2,000 people died of disease and malnutrition, many using clothing and blankets from infected people. Dirty water, contaminated with human waste, contributed to disease. Washington, though a controversial decision, ordered mass inoculation against smallpox. Valley Forge was the site of one of the first state mandated mass immunization programs in history.

During the first month of the encampment the soldiers mainly ate fire cake, a mixture of water and flour baked over a fire. The Continental Army’s prescribed daily ration included one and a half pounds of meat, a pound of bread and two ounces of alcohol (2,700-3,000 calories). However for much of the encampment, the soldiers received a fraction of this, often no meat at all (often less than 500 calories daily). Winter weather and impassable roads made getting food and supplies to the encampment very difficult.

During this time Washington continued to persevere and inspire his troops. He brought in experienced officers such as former Prussian officer Baron von Steuben, who spoke no English but volunteered to teach the soldiers new military skills, improved hygiene to fight disease and instruct them how to fight as a unified army. These reforms in fighting tactics and army organization became the foundation for today’s modern United States Army. Steuben’s regulations, called “The Blue Book” is used as the Army’s basic training manual today.

Benjamin Franklin and other ambassadors traveled to Paris in 1776 to court France as an ally. In May 1778,Washington received word that treaties of alliance with France had been secured.  This alliance helped change the course of the Revolutionary War. The British evacuated Philadelphia and Washington and his united troops marched in pursuit. 

One interesting note is that history books do not always adequately convey the impact of war on those whose land the war is fought. After the Valley Forge encampment departed, a ruined land was left behind. Soldiers had cleared forest for many miles and demanded for military purposes farm animals, food and supplies, paying with worthless Continentals currency. This left farmers and their families with little food to eat or sell. The winter weather and activity of thousands of people had turned the fields to deep mud. The fields were so damaged that no crops could be planted that first summer. The farmers quickly got to work to dismantle the huts and plow the fields so they were able to grow crops again by the next summer. General Washington returned to the site in 1787, pleased with how the land and agriculture had been restored.

These Huts Represent The Originals

We spent quite a bit of time at the Visitors Center and since it was bitter cold, we didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the outside displays. We did stop at the National Memorial Arch, dedicated in 1917, to honor the soldiers’ perseverance.

We also stopped at Washington’s Headquarters and office, a stone house that was the residence of Washington and his staff. In the rooms were furnishings and clothing from that time.  In the distance was a statue of George Washington.  

The Kitchen

There are 52 monuments and markers in the park. Nearby the house was a pretty covered bridge.

Valley Forge became a state park in 1893.  On July 4, 1976, on the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence, President Gerald Ford visited Valley Forge and signed legislation establishing Valley Forge National Historical Park. President Ford said, “Grateful Americans will come to this shrine of quiet valor, this forge of our Republic’s iron core”. 

Near Washington’s Headquarters was a train station that is no longer used. In 1950 and 1957 the Boy Scouts held their National jamboree at Valley Forge.

Thousand of Tents for the Boy Scout National Jamboree

A Typewriter In the Depot

With better weather it would be easy to spend an entire day or two here. There is a ten mile auto tour, trails, ranger tours and a tour by trolley to enjoy. 

Leaving Pennsylvania we stopped briefly at the gazebo in Stephens City, VA where we were married eleven years ago, the first time we had been there since our wedding.

We spent two nights in Lexington, VA with a good friend and former coworker. We had a wonderful lunch visit with another former coworker in Marion, VA. Cold, rainy weather followed us. Our last night was in Lancaster, SC where we had a nice dinner with Bill’s sister and her husband. 

We arrived home on November 16th, just in time to repack for our next trip. 

Next up: One of us arrives home sick. Cruise or no cruise? Stay tuned! 


Touring D.C. Day 3 NOV 10, 2022

Our last day in D.C. we again set out early on a chilly morning. We took the metro and got off at the stop closest to our first planned visit, Ford’s Theater. We had booked a tour of the theater ($5 each) and arrived about 45 minutes early. We asked one of the guides if we could take an earlier tour and he agreed.

Other than reading, one of Lincoln’s favorite forms of recreation was going to the theater. On the evening of April 14, 1865, President and Mrs. Lincoln, sitting in the Presidential Box, attended a performance of the play “Our American Cousin”. At intermission the President’s bodyguard left and went to Star Saloon for a drink and did not return for the beginning of the next act. A stagehand let Booth in through a back door. Booth wedged the door of the Presidential Box open with the leg of a wooden music stand he left there earlier in the day. John Wilkes Booth shot the president in the head. Booth jumped from the stage, got entangled in the balcony decorations, and landed off balance, breaking a bone in his leg. He ran out the back door of the theater, mounted his horse and escaped from the city.

John Wilkes Booth, an actor and native of Maryland, was very familiar to Washington audiences, having performed in area plays. In fact, in November, 1863, President and Mrs. Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater to see the play, “The Marble Heart”, starring John Wilkes Booth. During the play, Booth looked up at the Presidential Box when delivering his most threatening lines. One of the people watching with Lincoln in the presidential box commented that Booth seemed to be saying those lines to the President and Lincoln agreed.

In July, 1864, Booth met with some Confederate agents in Boston and hatched a plan to kidnap Lincoln and hold him hostage in exchange for the release of southern prisoners. On Inauguration Day, 1865, Booth and five of his co-conspirators stood a few feet from Lincoln as he talked about healing the nation. After Lee’s surrender, Booth had to quickly change his plans and he and his conspirators made plans to assassinate Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.

After breaking his leg from his leap from the balcony, he rode to the house of a doctor who set his leg. Booth had planned on escaping through the Maryland countryside to Virginia and then south where he thought he would be a hero. Along with a co-conspirator, and slowed by his broken leg, they were given food and shelter by Southern sympathizers, though many refused to help. On April 26th while hiding in a barn near Port Royal, VA, Union soldiers surrounded them. His co-conspirator surrendered immediately while Booth was shot and died three hours later. He asked the soldiers to “tell my mother I died for my country”. The other co-conspirators were soon arrested, received the death sentence and were hung. Among them was the first woman executed by the federal government. The stagehand who let Booth in the back door received six years of hard labor. The doctor who set his leg was given a life sentence. Initially the doctor said he had not recognized the injured Booth that night. However it was discovered that the doctor had met Booth on three occasions, twice at his farm and once in D.C. He worked on the Confederate underground, failed to notify authorities that Booth had been at his farm, and lied about the direction Booth traveled when he left the farmhouse. President Andrew Johnson pardoned and released the doctor and stagehand in 1869.  They had been sent to Fort Jefferson in Florida. While they were there, the doctor helped many prisoners stricken with yellow fever. He was pardoned for his work at the prison.

President Lincoln, unconscious, was carried to the Peterson house across the street and placed in a back bedroom. The rooms in the Peterson house are 1865 period pieces but none are original to the house. The bed on which Lincoln died is in the Chicago History Museum. The bed was short for the tall president so he was placed diagonally on the bed.

Mrs. Lincoln and their oldest son Robert were with him. Over 90 people would pass through the house to pay their last respects to the dying president. The doctors knew the wound was fatal and Lincoln never gained consciousness. He died the next day, April 15, 1865. Days earlier, General Robert E Lee had surrendered at Appomattox to General Grant. After four + years of struggling to preserve the Union, President Lincoln did not live to see the beginning of the healing process.

Our self guided tour included Ford’s Theater as well as the Petersen House, the house where Lincoln died. Along with us on our assigned tour was a group of high school students. These two historic places really had some interesting displays and facts about the Lincoln assassination. Unfortunately the students were more interested in running around and horseplay. Typical high schoolers. I wish they had taken the chance to learn about this history more seriously.

Last Formal Photo taken February 5, 1865

The museum had Booth’s gun on display. After Lincoln’s death the War Department kept it. In 1931 they received a request to display it at the Ford’s Theater museum. The War Department denied the request saying displaying the gun would “create interest in the criminal aspect of the great tragedy, rather than in the historical features thereof, and would have more of an appeal for the morbid or weak-minded than for the students of history”. The War Department transferred the gun to the National Park Service in 1940 where it has been displayed ever since.

The museum had a replica of the funeral train which took Lincoln’s body on a 14 day, 1,700 mile journey where over seven million Americans viewed the casket as it made its way to Springfield, Illinois for burial. Bill and I visited his tomb in Springfield in September, 2013.

Today Ford’s Theater is a national historical site but also an active theater. In 1866 the federal government bought the theater and in 1932 opened the Lincoln Museum.  It was entrusted to the National Park Service in 1933.

It underwent extensive restoration in 1964. While we were there workers were busy preparing for the next performance.

A portrait of the Lincoln family was painted by Samuel B. Waugh. The print showing Abraham Lincoln, sitting in chair at the left end of a table with Thomas sitting next to him, Mary Todd is sitting on the right, and Robert Todd is standing behind the table.

Painted one Year After Lincoln’s Death

After leaving Ford’s Theater we decided to grab a geocache before our next stop. We found one at the US Navy Memorial Plaza. There have been many times where finding a geocache has taken us places we would not have ordinarily found. This is one of those times, made even more special by the group of Navy veterans visiting that day.

Next up was the National Archives Museum. We did not need a timed pass for this museum.

We came here to see the original documents of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. They are located in an area called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. The three documents are known as the Charters of Freedom. They are located in a cool room with dim light to prolong the life of the documents. No photography is allowed for the same reason. The writing on the Declaration of Independence is very faded and hard to read. The parchment document had once been proudly displayed for 35 years in a window of the Patent Office Building where it had been exposed to sunlight. We waited in a short line to get in since they only allow a limited number of people in the Rotunda at a time.

Picture from Condé Nast Traveler

Today, the documents are sealed in glass “in the most scientifically advanced housing that preservation technology can provide”. There is a guard standing by the four-pages of the Constitution of the United States and he will scold you if you lean on the glass for a closer look. (I know from personal experience.) When Bill visited here many years ago he was told that at night they lower the documents into underground vaults for safekeeping. When Bill mentioned that to one of the guards, she said she could not confirm or deny that. Times have changed! 

Picture from Condé Nast Traveler

After a quick lunch at the food court in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, we headed to our last stop of the day, the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian. We also did not need an entry pass for this building. We had really looked forward to visiting this museum but it was later in the day and I think at this point we were really tired after three days of sightseeing. We didn’t spend as much time as originally planned and toured the three floors of exhibits/artifacts rather quickly. The first floor had Inventions, American Enterprise and the Value of Money.

Adding Machine from 1927

An Early Portable Computer by IBM, “SCAMP” 1973

The second floor had American Democracy, Many Voices, One Nation and a very interesting Star-Spangled Banner exhibit.

George Washington’s Surveyor Compass

George Washington at Princeton

The third floor had The Price of Freedom, (Bill’s favorite) and the American Presidency and First Ladies exhibits. This was my favorite. Unfortunately all my pictures from the museum are gone from my phone as well as some of Bill’s. We can’t figure out how that happened. 

From the Revolution War Exhibit:

General Charles Cornwallis; letter of surrender and sword.

General Charles Cornwallis was so Mortified by Defeat sent his Second in Command to Surrender and Offer the General’s Sword to Washington.

From the Civil War Exhibit:
From the World War II Exhibit:

We were glad to sit down on the metro and get back to the hotel. Another day of walking 5+ miles had caught up with us. 

Some closing thoughts on D.C. We were really pleased with our D.C. experience. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, from the workers in the metro to the U.S. park rangers and guides in the museums. Everyone seemed really glad we were there and wanted us to have a great experience. The city itself was clean and felt safe. Even the traffic was tolerable. Unlike other U.S. cities in our recent travels, we did not see homeless encampments, people sleeping on the street or panhandlers. 

Next up: a day in Philadelphia