Trip of a Lifetime: The Plan and the First Day

Mentioning to a friend I am going to work in Gaza, a plan was set. W is working and living in Europe making it easy for him to plan the trip, it has a direct flight from his place to Tel Aviv and being Filipino, a visa was not going to be a problem.

Days passed, we agreed on a month – the best time according to the guidebook to visiting Israel and the Holy Land, September! Wanting the trip to be more fun we invited two other friends from home. Unsure whether they will accept or not, W  and I proceeded with our plan.

As early as May the dates were set for the first week of September, in time for the Eid Al-Adha celebration. Not long after, the two other friends from the Philippines agreed to join us and started to look for cheap flights to here. Now we are four!

As the day of the “trip of a lifetime” approaches, more plans are set in motion – where to stay? How much is acceptable rent? Airbnb or hostel? And what will be the itinerary considering the time would be very short – 5 days! Until almost a week before the scheduled trip we haven’t made up our minds, but in the end, we settled for a hostel and tried to arrange our trip a la DIY.

The holiday begins for me … 

I left Gaza via Erez on a Wednesday, before the weekend and will wait for my friends to arrive on Thursday from Philippines and Europe.

Since I am officially on holiday, I felt like I needed a little pampering, so I went to have my nails done and in a relaxed mode, received news that the two friends who started traveling from the Philippines the same day was stuck in Hongkong and was not being allowed to proceed to Beijing because of the airport traffic that could delay their flight to Tel Aviv to at least four days. Even if they can proceed they don’t have the transit visa for China to let them stay for more than 2 hours (and ridiculously if they do get to land in Beijing our planned holidays would be over by the time they arrive in Tel Aviv).

Disheartened, the trip must go on even if it was to go back to the original two-person trip. Luckily they managed to get another booking via Ethiopian air, but it means they lost 1 day of their holidays by arriving after midnight of Thursday (Friday) and spending unplanned cost just to get to see the Holy Land.

From 2 to 4 to 2 and back to 4

W arrived according to plan and prep the coming days while waiting for the other two to arrive later that night. We managed to see a little of the area where we live – walking down Jaffa street from Ha Davidka station to the Jaffa Gate and not to pre-empt the tour, we exited immediately to the New Gate and spent the rest of the afternoon over Middle Eastern cheese platter and beer at the Notre Dame restaurant overlooking the old city and all of Jerusalem city (and neighboring town if you know where to look).

Returning late, we continue waiting over wine and more cheese (European) in our room. A little past midnight the crews complete, and after a little chatter with stories of adventures from Hongkong to Ethiopia Adis Ababa to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport and lots of laughter we were all happily settled in our bunk beds getting ready for the day trip around the old city – Jerusalem at sunrise.

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(Photo courtesy of W) View from the Notre Dame restaurant, Jerualem (2016)

We are all looking forward to the trips from Friday till Tuesday to near and far, even though for me, this is my third time to be going to the holy sites in the Terra Sancta. I don’t mind because every time I am with a different company and with every visit, I discover new places, new things, new information and maybe new friends.

The holidays begins … finally!

For the meantime enjoy the photos.

And if you want to know more about Notre Dame click here!

Third Time’s the Charm @ the Holy Land

I am on leave again, the second for the current post and I am still spending it here in the country. But this time, I will be hosting friends from the university who became best buddies over the years and don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining … one cannot get enough of the Tierra Sancta to be complaining! 

I started this post on the first day of the trip we labeled “trip of a lifetime” while waiting for each one of them to arrive. As they started to join me here in Jerusalem, the writing took a back seat and only now I am finishing it five days after romping from here to the north and ending the last night overlooking the hills of Beit Jala in the West Bank.

The first time I went around the old city, it was the holy week. The experience was surreal – never imagined I will be spending THE Holy Week in the place where it all happened. It brought out all the emotions one could have reliving the life of Jesus Christ and remembering my parents, especially my mom of how much she wanted to come here when she was alive.

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Palm Sunday entering the Lion’s Gate  from the Garden of Gethsemane

The second time was with a very good friend, who also did visited the holy land in the past but didn’t quite enjoy it with a big pilgrim company. So he decided to come over since I am here and we spent a week visiting the life of Jesus from birth to His resurrection.

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The Icon of Jesus nailed on the cross in Golgotha (inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre)

Now the third time, as they often say is the charm 🙂 and indeed it was! It was the most enlightening so far me (at least) and hopefully to my three other friends as we had discovered more than what we asked for – understanding beyond the biblical history of the intertwined countries of Israel and Palestine.

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View of the side walkway in Masada (Photo credit to Wayne)

But as much as we wanted to see all of the sites regardless of faith, we missed to visit the Dome of the Rock because of the celebration of the Eid Al-Adha. Having said that, I take it as a sign that there will be a fourth round to my romance with the holy land before I end my mission next year!