[Wednesday 31 October
**WARNING: Contains an instance of strong language!**
Here is the information supplied by Riviera Travel:
I woke up in time to see the sun rise over the mountains on the other side of the Dead Sea. Already, people were out, bobbing buoyantly in the salt-saturated water. (I assume they were, though there are no feet visible in the photo: 06:10:54, below.) “I saw a bit of [the sunrise],” Janet wrote: “a big orange ball rising and throwing a big orange streak across the Dead Sea. I’d awoken to birds singing. (I’ve missed that back home
[i.e. at this time of the year, when the songbirds are silent].)”
The hotel is situated across the road from its own beach on the shores of the Dead Sea, where you may wish to enjoy one of life's must-do experiences — bobbing like a cork in the most saline sea on Earth!
After a free morning, we will then visit the nearby fortress of Masada, site of one of ancient Rome's greatest sieges. We take a short cable car ride to the top of the hill, and have a guided tour of the site, which was fortified by Herod the Great in 43BC.
Just before arriving at the hotel we shall make a stop at the Mount of Olives, the world's oldest continually used cemetery and for a panoramic view of Jerusalem.
We continue to our hotel for the next four nights on a bed, breakfast and evening meal basis, the four-star
Grand Court Hotel. The address is 15, George Street, 91002, Jerusalem, with the telephone number from the UK being
00972 259 17777.
05:44:28 Dawn over the southern Dead Sea
06:10:54 Early bathers
I transferred the above photos from the camera and edited them using the
feller” (06:42–06:51). “I dozed until 7.30am,” Janet wrote, “then washed and dressed. It’s going to be another very hot day. Wall-to-wall sunshine outside. Just after 8am we went for breakfast.” Janet was disappointed at the lack of fresh fruit, and the two apples she selected proved to be tasteless. And she found the coffee undrinkable. Then the cockroach wandering across the floor didn’t restore the hotel to our favour. Somebody came along with a dustpan and brush and swept it up, perhaps to return it to its home in the kitchen. Don’t think I ever saw one before — apart, perhaps, from some dead examples shown by Phil
Grigg [a pest-control expert]. Quoting from Janet’s journal again: “Just after 8am we went for breakfast. I was
VERY unimpressed. I only hope our next hotel does
GOOD breakfasts. (Why can’t I get bananas?) Just before we left the dining room we saw a
HUGE cockroach on the floor. Lovely! We returned to our room.” Janet packed our cases, then we went out. There’d been a free drink voucher issued in the envelope with the room keys, so Janet had a
Pepsi Max and we sat by the hotel swimming pool in the shade while she drank it. Then we crossed the main road, and continued into the hotel’s private beach, where there were still people wading out then floating in the sea. It was very hot. We retraced our steps, found a shaded bench, sat for a while, then returned to the hotel.
Hotel Cucaracha from nearer the beach
“[John] returned to the room,” Janet wrote, “and I went to the bar and had a
Pepsi Max and watched the world go by for ½-hour.” I transferred the two further photos, above, from the camera and edited them with the
feller” (10:17–10:19). “It’s now 10.40am,” Janet wrote, “and very shortly we’ll be leaving the hotel. (I’m back in our room.)” Most of the leg of the journey beside the Dead Sea yesterday had been done in the dark, so it was a surprise, back on the coach and on our way, to pass such tall, rugged, craggy, barren mountains. Although
Janet’s “parlous” condition had abated, we nevertheless occupied the rear seats again, just in case they would become necessary — and also so that I could sit in the centre seat facing the aisle, and stretch my legs and flex my feet when I needed to (especially the right).
10:02:08 View in a more northerly direction from there
We turned off the road at the “Masada National Park”, left the coach, and joined the crowds entering the estate.
11:38:28 Rocky, barren heights, seen from the coach
11:52:50 Approaching the entrance to “Masada National Park”
We waited for the cable car — a single span with no intermediate pylons — to the summit fortress. Eric took us round on a conducted tour (we were equipped with intercom listening devices), and described features and gave historical overviews to us at some length from time to time, mainly in places where we could gather in shade from the fierce heat. The temperature was in the high 30s or perhaps even 40, which I found quite survivable. Janet wrote, though: “It was baking hot on the top, and I was in great distress several times. We were up there over an hour. Eric told us that the first time he went up there, when he was in his teens, there was nothing — no cable cars, so you had to walk to the top and back down; and no complex, housing restaurants, souvenir shops,
etc. — except a Coke machine! (That didn’t actually surprise me! [It] made me laugh.)”
12:07:18 Waiting for the cable car
12:08:52 The farther station of the cable car
12:11:46 The two cars pass each other. Also visible: part of the “snake path” up to the fortress.
12:12:44 Arrival of our car
12:19:50 Leaving the upper cable-car station
12:20:10 View back. The Dead Sea is just visible in the top left corner.
12:26:02 Quarry. The palaces and fortresses were built of locally hewn stone.
12:28:08 Fragment of the original plaster and decoration in one room
12:28:40 The black line marks the extent of the wall as excavated; above it, the wall has been reconstructed.
12:46:56 Herod’s three-tier palace
12:47:04 One of the besieging Roman legionary camps below
12:51:40 View northwards of the mountain ridge and valley of the Dead Sea
13:01:08 Model of the canal-system for capturing flash-flood water and storing it in cisterns. Eric poured a jug of water onto it to demonstrate how it was done.
13:08:24 Columbary — homing pigeons were used for the conveyance of dispatches.
13:09:46 Remains of the Roman siege-ramp viewed from where the wall was breached
13:14:10 Byzantine church
13:15:08 Mosaic floor in a side room of the Byzantine church
13:15:24 Side room of the Byzantine church
“When we returned to the complex it was absolutely heaving [with crowds of people]. [John] queued at a
McDonald’s outlet, but finally gave up. I… then went to a shop and got us a cold drink each and a bag of crisps for [John].” We found a space to sit in the rows of shaded long tables with benches either side, just without the complex of shops and restaurants. We finally left
ca.2.30pm, after waiting for some considerable time for the coach in the entrance to the estate shown at “11:52:50”, above. I was able to ease my aching feet by sitting on the steps. And so we retraced yesterday’s route beside the Dead Sea — slowing as we passed the caves of Qumran
— then proceeded to Jerusalem. From time to time we saw Bedouin camps beside the road; I missed photographing a Bedouin shepherd leading his sheep, though.
13:20:52 Remains of one of the water-capturing canals, visible from the gangway back to the cable-car
15:21:16 View of the mountainside to the left from the coach
15:23:50 Passing the caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
15:23:58 Passing the caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
The barren, desert-terrain continued just about as far as Jerusalem, for Jerusalem is just about on the very edge of the drop-zone for rain-clouds carried by the prevailing winds over the mountains from the Mediterranean. So Jerusalem marked the start of the more temperate “Mediterranean climate” zone. I found in general in Israel that no effort had been made in modern building to make structures look “pretty” — they were merely functional — and the square houses and taller apartments covering many hilltops in the environs of Jerusalem were no exception. There was nothing “holy” about the exploitation of land in the Holy Land! If you want building that’s in harmony with the landscape you go to Norway — or Italy or Russia, even. Israel (and Egypt), by and large, where humans are in occupation, are ugly. We didn’t “make a stop at the Mount of Olives” as the programme said, not today anyway; we visited the Vad Hashem Holocaust memorial. Eric didn’t like the word “holocaust”, for its root meaning implied a voluntary sacrifice; he preferred the Hebrew word “Shoah” (“catastrophe”). By the time we got off the bus, everyone else was way ahead, and try as I might to catch up, the distance got greater and greater. That’s when I lost my temper and bellowed “Fucking bastards!” — and after a pause did so again, and again, and then again. The main exhibition building was shaped like a long knife cutting through the hillside; one proceeded along its length in zigzags, passing through exhibits in one side-room, traversing the central space, then passing through exhibits in the opposite side-room, and so on to the end. I guess, having seen the movie
Schindler’s List, and having seen TV documentaries, there was little in the information presented there that was new to me. Some of the narrated stories on TV screens were harrowing.
Janet, though, wrote: “It made me weep a lot. I also learned things I didn’t know.” It’s a mistake not allowing photography in there, because memory has quickly faded. The “Righteous among the Nations” were commemorated at one point, including Oskar Schindler. Near the end was the Hall of Names, with a high conical ceiling with hundreds of photos of Shoah victims, and a wider circular space outside this housing the millions of “Pages of Testimony”. I missed the fact (or if indeed I saw it, have forgotten) that there was a conical excavation out of the rock below, filled with water and reflecting the photos in the upper cone. I expected to see an “eternal flame”, but forgot to ask about it; apparently this is housed in a separate “Hall of Remembrance”.
15:43:52 Bedouin encampment on the road to Jerusalem
16:45:04 Yad Vashem entrance building
16:47:40 Yad Vashem museum building
Interior of the museum building (photo from Yad Vashem website)
Hall of Names (photo from Yad Vashem website)
“It was dark when we emerged just after 6pm,” Janet wrote. “We finally arrived at our hotel, the
Grand Court, at 7pm. Huge place. We took our bags to our room, had a quick wash-and-brush-up then went for dinner. A
BIG restaurant. So much choice.” Again, though, I found the sights and smells of the buffet a bit stomach-turning; but I managed to eat some chicken from the rotisserie oven, with plain rice. We were assigned a long table for the whole
Riviera party (or perhaps part of it), which didn’t really suit me. I guess I find socialising a strain. “We were back in our room at 8pm,” Janet wrote. “I unpacked some stuff and hung up some clothes, etc. At least there’s no more packing and unpacking tomorrow or Saturday. I then had a shower… — ([John’s] feet [were] sore as usual. He did really well again) — organised my bag for tomorrow, sorted out my notes then updated this. It’s now 10.25pm. [John] lay down on the bed about 10 minutes ago in the middle of tweaking today’s photos and fell asleep. I’m… getting into bed, so I’ve no idea at this stage what [John] will do.” In fact, the “date modified” evidence is that I edited
ALL the remaining photos from today, 33 of them (21:08–21:56). I did get up again to brush my teeth,
18:07:20 Waiting for our party to reassemble in the exit area of the museum
[Friday 2 November 2012]