The number one thing on the Breinholt’s list was visiting the Dead Sea. We hadn’t had a chance to visit them ourselves yet, so we were so excited to go and experience this place. We drove the 2 hours down and our first stop was Masada. This ancient fortress in the Judean Desert is on a massive plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and was built around 30 BC. Once King Herod’s Palace, Masada is huge and has a ton of archeological ruins. Because we had a late start, we opted for the cable car ride to the top instead of the hike.
The views of the Dead Sea were pretty awesome. It’s amazing that Herod decided to build a palace in this desolate place, but if you wanted to get away from it all and enjoy bounteous sunshine year-round, this is the spot to do it in. The siege of Masada near 70 BC ended in the mass suicide (their final act of refusal to be captured) of 960 Jewish zealots, the Sicarii. A small few hid in this massive cistern below to evade capture.
Half of us rode the cable car back down and the other half raced on foot to the bottom of the plateau. They beat the cable car! Our next stop was the public beach here near Masada. It was gorgeous, as you can see. The water was so clear and the salt bottom provided a nice white background to the clear water, which was pretty unreal looking.
It was a chilly day out and the water wasn’t extremely warm, so we waded in slowly, but eventually everyone got it- no one wanted to waste this amazing opportunity to float in the Dead Sea.
The teenagers were able and wanted to stay in the water for a long time. Jason and Deborah did too. But the few of us that had cuts or sensitive skin only lasted a couple of minutes. The salt really burned and stayed that way for quite a while. But, pain aside, floating in the sea was unbelievably incredible and the weirdest, craziest feeling! We loved it.
Kate came prepared with a prop ;) Harry Potter. Proof that I braved the cold water (I am truly the biggest wimp!) and got in for a few minutes. Lauren’s face says what I was feeling a little more accurately than my face does. It was so cool to do this with my kids and see how much they enjoyed it.
I love Tessa’s face here. She was really hesitant to just “let go” and let the water hold her up- so different from any other swimming experience in the world! She finally relaxed and little and was giddy with the sensation of this experience. You had to be careful splashing around too or you’d get salt in your eyes.
When we were driving in, there was this perfect reflection of these mountains (the Jordanian side) on the water, which was as calm and flat as any water I’d ever seen. Also, it was wild to see zero signs of life (outside of tourists!) anywhere around the sea.
We went back to Jerusalem the next day for a tour of Hezekiah’s tunnel and more of the Old City. This tunnel experience was the coolest! We were unprepared for what to expect, so I didn’t know to have everyone wear clothes they could get wet, so most couldn’t do the tunnels and went on the dry tour instead. Such a bummer and I felt terrible about it.
Most of the water depth was up to the ankle, but the start reached halfway up the thigh, so I carried Tessa for that portion and she carried her shoes :) . We both loved how narrow and dark and warm the water was (compared to the chilly air outside). The 583 yard tunnel went on for close to 20 minutes and a few times Brian turned off his flashlight and I’ve never been anywhere so completely black with darkness- it was crazy.
This is in the beginning, where I carried Tessa for a short while. It was a pretty amazing feat to build this tunnel in the 8th Century BC and that it was started at the two ends and somehow managed to meet in the middle way before technology was invented that would have made this much easier to accomplish.
From there, we raced over to Temple Mount before it closed for prayers. We got a solid 10 minutes there before they asked us to leave.
We had to drag the kids out of there- pretty sure they could have held an all day photoshoot with all of the incredible architecture.
We also stopped at the Western Wall, which never loses its feeling of devotion for so many.
We ate some lunch in the Old City and then finished our day with a walk on the ramparts. This provided gorgeous views, both inside and outside of Jerusalem as well as some slides for the kids ;)
Israel is so green and lush right now and there was this huge empty rolling hills field right in the Old City that was peculiarly abandoned, from the looks of it.
It was a clear day, so you could see all the way to Bethlehem (as well as that crazy wall) from our vantage point. We made it to Bethlehem that night to visit the Church of the Nativity with some sketchy guides that we picked up at the entrance to the city and then they subsequently dropped us on the Palestine side of the border (and charged us almost double what they originally quoted- ugh) where we walked across this infamous crossing where thousands beg for the chance to live with more freedom almost daily. Such a complicated topic.
Brian and I took the Breinholts on our own food tour of Carmel Market, stopping at our favorite places. We had malabi, hummus, Thai and kebab pita. Oh, and we topped it off with some gelato for good measure. I will miss the colors, smells and fresh produce of this place so much.
The last day was spent playing on the beach for hours and then showering off so the Breinholts could catch their flight that night. I’m sure they went home exhausted and ready to get to their new home in Arizona. We were seriously sad to see them go and our fun week come to an end. More than that though, we were so grateful that they came to see us and what great friends and examples they are to our family.