Israel, Day 2: Massada and the Dead Sea

On our second day in Israel we took a full day tour to Massada, a Roman fortress of immense importance to the Jews on a mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. Jerusalem is at an elevation of about 2500 feet above (Mediterranean) sea level but our initial destination today was the lowest place on earth – the Dead Sea, at1400 feet below sea level. So, in a distance of less than 20 miles we descended about 4000 feet on a well-paved divided highway.


We were now in the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and in an area that has been the center of conflict between Israel and Palestine for decades. There are three defined areas to the West Bank (although the boundaries are much convoluted – and often disputed); one entirely under Israeli control; one entirely under Palestinian control; and a third, essentially within greater Jerusalem, that is under joint administration. Our guide was quick to point out that our entire day would be spent in the Israeli controlled region and would therefore be safe!


Although Jerusalem itself has many lush areas and is surprisingly green and filled with decorative flower beds and parks, we were now in true desert – almost barren, rock covered and hot! Even here, however, there were green areas along what were now dried river beds and there is sufficient rainfall at the higher elevations to create seasonal flooding and sufficient irrigation to support a number of farms and kibbutzim. The overwhelming feel, nevertheless, is that of a mountainous, rocky terrain which borders a large inland lake – the Dead Sea.


The Dead Sea is fed only by the Jordan River, which is now so heavily dammed and depleted of water for upstream farming and industry that the Sea level is dropping at an alarming rate of about 3 feet per year. The water level has dropped so much that the lake is now in two parts and a project is underway to “refill” the Dead Sea with waters from the Red Sea to the south. A joint Palestinian, Israel and Jordan agreement will build a canal (actually just a pipeline) with the hope of maintaining, or even adding to, the water in the Dead Sea. It is interesting to note that the water flowing northward will actually be brine (from a desalination plant) in order to maintain the mineral level of the Dead Sea and preserve its health attributes and its tourism.


A “swim” in the Dead Sea (after an appropriate covering with therapeutic mud) was scheduled for the afternoon of our visit (we chose to decline, having performed this ritual several years ago only a few miles away in Jordan) but first we went to the site that had caused us to take this tour. This was the ancient Roman fortress city of Massada, occupied and made palatial by King Herod when he was puppet king during the Roman occupation. It was built on top of, and terraced down from, a mesa-like hilltop 1300 feet above the Dead Sea.


During the first of the Jewish-Roman wars, Jewish rebels – the Sicarii – overthrew the Roman garrison and were further supplemented by more Sicarii after the second temple at Jerusalem was destroyed. In 73AD the Roman Governor decided that it was time to take back the fortress and laid siege from several (still obvious) encampments surrounding the hilltop.

Model of Massada Fortress and Palace

Model of Massada Fortress and Palace

Massada today

Massada today


Eventually an enormous ramp was built by the Romans and designed to allow troops to storm the fort at wall level. The Jewish Zealot occupiers realized that they were about to be beaten but rather than surrender to the Romans they chose to “surrender to God” and kill themselves. Of the almost 1000, ten were selected to do most of the killing and then were to kill themselves in turn. This apparently happened and was later confirmed and recorded by a few women and children who had hidden throughout this mass killing and later surrendered to the Romans.


In addition to being a legendary site of martyrdom, the fortress and palace were magnificent examples of Roman architecture and art and were as impressive as many other examples throughout the Empire. Even today there are clear examples of the traditional bathhouses, cisterns, mosaics and frescos typical of the advanced civilization of the time.

Roman underfloor heating in bath house

Roman underfloor heating in bath house

Roman fresco

Roman fresco

Although it is possible to walk up to the fortress via a “Serpent Path”, we were fortunate that a 3000 feet cable car ride is available today and that was the approach we selected (as well as for the descent after our visit). We spent about two hours wandering the ruins and trying to picture the area as it had once existed. To this end there were several excellent models showing not only the overall complex but also depicting specific buildings, complete with columns and mosaic floors. As an archeological site it is certainly impressive and is made all the more interesting as a historically important example of the Jewish Faith.


The late morning on the mountain was a little overcast and there was a slight cooling breeze at that elevation. During the following two hour visit to the Dead Sea resort, however, the skies became clearer and the breeze dissipated such that it was 100F in the shade where we spent most of the time while our fellow tourists dipped and floated in the warm waters – and the much hotter air.

Dead Sea bathing!

Dead Sea bathing!


First cover yourself with mud and the float!

First cover yourself with mud and then float!

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Israel Day 1; The Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Stations of the Cross

On our first full day in Jerusalem we walked the 15 minutes or so from our hotel to the Jaffa Gate, one of several entrances to the Old City. Old Jerusalem (walled in the Middle Ages – at least in this form) is divided into several Quarters and we entered at the edge of the Christian and Armenian Quarters. It was the Christian Quarter where we would spend most of our time today, although we did wander a little into the Muslim area – where a young man told us “this was for Muslims only” (I am not convinced that was entirely correct) but he did re-direct us to the route we really wanted!

Our main focus today was in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is built over the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. The present-day church is administered by several Christian churches and secular organizations in a complicated arrangement that has lasted for centuries. While the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches have a permanent presence here, Anglican and Protestant Churches do not, and some regard the Garden Tomb (just outside the city walls) as the site of the crucifixion and resurrection.


The Unction Stone


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher











After 2000 years of history, wars and different occupying forces it seems to me that a precise positioning might be open to debate, but I find that of little real consequence. Here we were, entering a church dating from the fourth century, albeit essentially re-built to its present form at the time of the Crusades, that may stand on the Biblical Golgotha (Calvary), and may enclose the Unction Slab (where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial), as well as the actual tomb in which He lay for three days before the Resurrection.

So this site may not be exact. It may be a few miles away or somewhere else entirely. Nevertheless, this particular site caused early Christians to build a church which has brought countless people of all faiths here, just as we were today. The events of the time and their place in History are a matter of both record and Faith and it is the latter that is pre-eminent for most who visit here. If this church (beautiful in its own right but – almost to be expected- overshadowed by the chapels, altars and annexes pertaining to the Death and Resurrection of Christ) can represent a point of focus for Believers, then that should be sufficient. If, as so many clearly believe, Calvary is here and not “somewhere in the vicinity”, then that must surely add to its Center of The World claim under the dome of the Crusader Church. For my part, I knew that I had to visit every corner of this world-famous site and see the final Stations of The Cross, the altar over the stone where the Cross was erected, the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and, of course, the sepulcher itself. In this latter I was thwarted today by the long lines but……. another day, perhaps.

We were, however, able to lay our hands on the Unction Stone. This particular slab dates only from 1810 and even the tradition is attested only to the Crusader era so, once again, absolute points of reference and physical details may have been amended with the passing of time. For the prostrate faithful who touched and wiped the stone with handkerchiefs or briefly laid candles or other mementos on the tablet in reverence, the connection to the Savior was clearly manifest regardless of global coordinates.


The Bust of Mary at Station XII




The altar above the hole in which the Cross was placed


The Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea

So, the site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection is not “a green hill far away, without a city wall” anymore and that image has been complemented in our minds by a completely different – but equally deeply etched – picture of closely spaced sites under one roof. If these sites are indeed in the correct geographical locations, the proximity of Cross and Tomb (about 100 feet) is perhaps one of the more surprising revelations of the visit for me.

Following our two hours in the Church we had coffee at a street café and then started down the Via Dolorosa to visit (in reverse order) the Stations of the Cross outside today’s church. Each Station is marked by the appropriate number on the wall of the nearest building and several also have small chapels. The walk of less than half a mile follows an almost straight line through today’s narrow (less than 10 feet?) streets lined with shops and businesses. Again, the picture of an open, steep, perhaps grassy or stony path of 2000 years ago (my image) has been replaced by this paved route crowded by buildings such that the sun rarely reaches the pavement. It is today (and probably has been for a very long time) one of the major arteries of the Old City and is reminiscent of so many Middle Eastern souks or market areas.


Station II


Station VI


Station V












Some of the Stations have inscriptions, others an appropriate New Testament reference, but for the most part specific descriptions must come from an ability to navigate the Gospels and, indeed, the Old Testament – or carry a good guide book! Stations I and II, at the end of our walk, are widely regarded as the Praetorium referred to in the Gospels and are on the site of the Antonia fortress where Jesus was condemned by Pontius Pilate, scourged and given His cross.

This marked the end of our journey for today, although we still had to walk back up the Via Dolorosa (again nowhere near as steep as my prior image), past the Church and out of the Old City via the Jaffa Gate. The city walls, dating from the early 16th Century when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire, are still intact and parts of the ramparts are available for a short walking tour – but our legs told us that experience would have to wait for another day!


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Great day for Baseball

2527 2521 2519

Saturday April 19

This was the first baseball game of the season for Cameron after several cancellations due to weather and wet pitches. It was also his first game in the PYO Diamond Reds uniform . He hit safely to first just once, stole second, then third and narrowly missed scoring when he just missed stealing home. All was in a winning cause – the Reds won 12-1 and the game was called after five innings. With temperatures in the mid-sixties and a clear blue sky, it was a perfect day for playing – and watching – baseball.

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Off to The Holy Land

April 2014.

Shortly we will be leaving for a twelve day visit to Israel where we plan to stay in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This is our first visit to this country and we are excited about the many Biblical sites that we will see as well as experiencing the culture of the Middle East again.

We feel fortunate that we have already visited several countries in the area and have been moved when visiting places of historical importance referenced in the Bible. We have seen the land of the Pharaohs in Egypt and followed much of the Exodus route from the Red Sea through the deserts and hills of Jordan, east of the Dead Sea.

One of the most moving experiences of that visit to Jordan was standing on the top of Mt Nebo and facing west. From here the full effect of reaching the Promised Land could be seen, albeit a little hazily during our visit. Here was the northern end of the Dead Sea to our far left, the Jordan River running north-south through the middle of the view, and Jerusalem, Jericho, Rammallah and the rest of Palestine on the far horizon. Our view that day was less than perfect and a good guide and a little imagination were necessary to hazily pick out the sites, but the experience was one of those “once in a lifetime” that you just didn’t want to leave.


Jesus’ Baptism Site near the River Jordan

We were reminded that Moses himself never actually set foot in Palestine and, as the last of the generation that had fled Egypt forty years earlier, had climbed to this spot and had died here. He must, however, have seen the future home of his children, just as we were seeing it that day in 2006.


The View of The Promised Land as seen by
Moses (1300 BC), Pope John Paul II (May 2000)
and Molly (March 2006)

Also in Jordan we visited the supposed site of Jesus’ baptism by John. The River Jordan separates modern-day Jordan and Israel and, as a result of upstream damming, is little more than a trickle along much of the border. The Baptism Site itself is now dry and is reached via a rough boardwalk and path (and a military escort) designed to avoid landmines that still exist from recent conflicts.

So, the Jordan River is a stream and the Baptism site is a dry bed with a small stone marking the alleged exact spot. The whole could be a huge disappointment. But it is not, because there is sufficient evidence to identify a small area in which one of the most profound events in history took place and whether we were standing exactly on the baptism site or a few feet away, or even a mile away, didn’t seem to matter. It was for us the same feeling that we had had on top of Mount Nebo; whether that was the exact spot from which Moses saw the Promised Land didn’t change the fact that, for sure, he and we had had a very similar view separated in time by over 3000 years. Similarly, somewhere very close to where we were now standing, Jesus and John the Baptist had also stood 2000 years ago. It is that recognition that makes history come alive and is a major reason for our travels around the world.

On other trips to this part of the world we visited Corinth in Greece (unfortunately most of the Roman area where St Paul’s Letters would have been heard was a closed archaeological site) and Ephesus in Turkey. Here we certainly walked the same street past the Library and market place as had St Paul (when he wasn’t imprisoned) during his 3 1/2 year stay after the Ephesian Church had been founded by St John. These are “goose bump” moments that – regardless of faith – must surely be experienced by the thousands who visit here.

On a recent Sunday we were reminded by the St John Gospel reading that we have also visited the church built over the (second) tomb of Lazarus. This was in Cyprus, where Lazarus of Bethany was appointed Bishop after fleeing Judea, and where he lived for thirty years. Whether this site and its story is apocryphal or historical fact is for the visitor to feel for himself – but for us it was another of those experiences that make travel such a privilege.

So now we are about to leave for a country that will surely provide many more of these “I can’t believe we are here” emotions and we hope that we will be able to adequately convey these feelings as you follow our posts on this site.

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CCDS Girls beat Winton Woods at Fast Pitch

April 9, 2914.

CCDS Girls scored their first win of the short season in a shutout against Winton Woods yesterday evening. The great pitching was supported by most of the team getting hits at bat and some alert plays in the field. Our granddaughter, Hayley, made several good plays at bat including a hit to get her on first base. This led to her stealing second and finally been batted home in one of ten team RBIs.

Hayley with Nepal handbagHere’s Hayley but not in uniform (Granddad forgot his camera)

A sunny – but towards the end, a little cool evening – provided an almost perfect backdrop to a great game.

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The True Arrival of Spring

April 6 2014.

Spring finally arrived for us as the first bike ride of the season was undertaken Sunday afternoon. The bike had been readied (tires checked, gears oiled) in anticipation a few weeks back but a mixture of rain, snow, sleet, cold and wind kept the machine in the garage.

However, Sunday morning was bright, if still a little cool, and a brief chat with a fellow cyclist convinced Bob that it was indeed time to get out if only for a short trial spin. So, by late afternoon an inaugural ride of 20 miles was completed and the first callouses of 2014 were beginning to form. Nevertheless, it felt good to be in the saddle for the first time since October of last year. It is difficult to imagine that on this date two years ago I had already covered 500 miles.

We have a lot of catching up to do………………….

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North America Road Trips

North America Road Trips

As part of our interest in travel, we have made a number of road trips within the United States and parts of Canada. In many cases these trips placed an emphasis on scenery and were often taken with friends and family visitors from England. Hence we have made a number of trips crisscrossing all of the western states and, incidentally, making excellent use of our Golden Age pass for entry to the many National Parks.

However, we have made several road trips that were of a more specific nature along routes of historical interest or of special significance to the growth of the country. We were inspired to these via the book “Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways”, which we would highly recommend for anyone thinking about similar trips.

Many of these road trips have found their way into journals that are currently in our library (shelf and/or computer) and in varying degrees of length and detail. All are our observations and impressions captured at the time and, although corroborated by some degree of Google research, are not intended as authoritative works but more as “vacation photograph albums with words”.

We are slowly getting these into a form that can be captured on this web site and thus be more readily available for anyone interested or curious. In the meantime we have compiled a list (in no particular order of chronology or importance) of those trips that we have particularly enjoyed and which (when the title turns blue) will be linked here.


US Route 66 (from Los Angeles to Amarillo only- approximately half its length)

The Lewis and Clark Trail – Part 1 from St Louis to Montana

– Part 2 from Montana to the Pacific Ocean

US Route 50 (The Loneliest Road) –Part 1 from Sacramento, CA to Cincinnati

Part 2 from Cincinnati to Ocean Beach, MD

US Route 93 (Canadian Border to Mexican Border) – Canadian Border to Phoenix

The National Road (US Route 40) – a short stretch through central Ohio

The Great Lakes via Michigan, Ontario, Minnesota and Wisconsin

From Los Angeles to Sacramento via Death Valley

The Southern States via Tennessee, the Carolinas, New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, St Augustine, Savannah and Charleston

And, as we said………………

The Western United States and many National Parks in a number of trips:

Denver, CO to San Francisco, CA via Rocky Mountains, Salt lake City, Utah Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Pacific Coast Highway (2013)

Vancouver, BC to San Francisco, CA via Seattle, Olympic Peninsula, Mt Hood, Columbia River, Crater Lake, Redwoods (2012)

Northern California and Oregon – Redwoods, Crater Lake, Mt Hood, Columbia River (2011)

Salt Lake City, UT to Seattle, WA via Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Sun Valley, Columbia River, Mt Hood, Mt St Helens (2011)





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Sacramento, March 2014

Sacramento, March 2014

This is our first “real time” Travel Blog and, perhaps appropriately, comes from our first trip this year to see our California family.

We left home on Wednesday evening for dinner in Cincinnati and a night at the airport Marriott before our relatively early morning flight to Los Angeles and then on to Sacramento.

We left a cool (still around freezing) Cincinnati and arrived in Sacramento to mid-afternoon temperatures of about 70F and beautiful clear blue skies. The two flights had been uneventful and on time (two welcome attributes) and we had some good views of the country as we flew, although we flew too far south to get really good views of the Rockies.

A welcome taste of spring after a long Ohio winter.DSC00130

We have, of course, visited Sacramento many times and always find it a pleasant city in which to spend some time. It has a good deal of history associated with the California Gold Rush. It was the main provisioning town for those heading in search of fortune in the hills to the east and the point from which those riches were shipped to the coast and beyond. Old Sacramento (a four by three block area on the banks of the Sacramento River) captures the flavor of the Forty-niners era with its wooden sidewalks and nicely restored old buildings. Sacramento is now of course the capital of the State and has a beautiful Capitol building and surrounding park area in a generally vibrant downtown. The city also has a comprehensive bike and walking trail network, particularly in the area in which we stay.

DSC00146Olympics 2024?

The main attraction for us, however, is now five years old and it is she, Samantha, and her parents, Christopher and Cyndi, that bring us west just as often as we can. Living over 2000 miles apart, we feel very fortunate to be able to see our family as frequently as we do – generally at least four times a year in one location or another.

Thus, our long weekends in Sacramento are spent with Christopher, Cyndi and Samantha as much as possible and don’t really need supplementing with sightseeing or other “vacation” activities. But, thanks to the organizing skills of our daughter-in-law, these trips often do include something a little extra – and this one was no exception.

Cyndi had arranged to get tickets to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show for Saturday, so seven of us, now including Cyndi’s parents Bill and Shirl, spent a very interesting and pleasant time there on Saturday. There were two large buildings filled with exhibits, several lectures that were available throughout the afternoon and an area devoted to gardens laid out in their entirety. These latter were not as spectacular nor as beautiful as I had imagined they would be and seemed to emphasize more stone and gravel than soil and flowers – although in view of the prolonged drought in this area, perhaps that tendency was appropriate.

DSC00168DSC00194The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show

There were, however, several very picturesque water features (which reminded me of our former home but which did not make me nostalgic to return when I recalled the work involved) and some spectacular exhibits of orchids and other blossoms as well as a very comprehensive bonsai tree exhibit and demonstration area. Finally, there was a Children’s area where Sammy spent the last hour with a tireless group of volunteers who showed endless patience as dozens of young kids attempted crafts and asked questions on the various child-friendly (and uniquely appealing, as in the worm “farm”) five-year- old eye level exhibits). All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend the day – a day once again filled with blue skies and mid-seventies temperatures.

In addition to this full day activity, we spent time watching Sammy at her gymnastics class, she and Granddad went for a bike ride and we spent time watching movies and pictures of recent events (including Sammy’s induction as karate Blue Belt and her school French Day recital as well as yet another Disneyland visit). We also exchanged several gifts; with visits of perhaps four times a year there is always, it seems, at least one birthday and/or Public Holiday that has taken place immediately before the trip (or will before we meet again) to celebrate. This time it was Cyndi’s and Christopher’s birthdays but, as is their custom, Cyndi and Christopher also chose to give us an Easter gift. Sammy was not left out as she received three Peter Rabbit books from our New Year visit to England as well as the recently published “Mrs Dog goes to India and Nepal” (with Grandma and Granddad).

DSC00197A nice day for a bike ride

Not to be omitted from the list of family activities during these weekend visits to California, we also spent most together meals (including on our last evening as a belated celebration of Molly’s birthday) and had plenty of time to catch up on the events of the past four months – and to anticipate our planned family cruise scheduled for July.

DSC00202Farewell until July

It is now Monday morning (March 24) and we are about to leave the hotel for our return flights to Cincinnati – where the forecast suggests we will be greeted by considerably lower temperatures.


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Elizabeth’s “New” Job, posted March 15. 2014

March 15 2013

About a year ago, our daughter Elizabeth (Hillery) Shepard decided to begin a new career (in a part-time mode) as a travel agent. She started by specializing in Disney vacations as she and her family have visited Disney locations on dozens of occasions, so she was somewhat of an expert even before her training.

She did, however, undergo a good deal of additional Disney training and has since broadened her horizons to other aspects of vacation planning for clients. Specifically she has just completed the Princess Cruise training (initiated in part by the fact that the entire family is taking an Alaska Cruise with Princess this summer) and just yesterday gained the “rank” of Commodore. In addition to the benefits to her potential clients of this extensive training, she herself will get certain elite status as a customer. the one that seems to appeal most for the upcoming cruise is free access to a one-time filling of the mini-bar in her state room!

She has in her first year organized perhaps a dozen Disney vacations for clients and is now taking inquiries about Princess Cruises – or, indeed, any other vacation trips that new and existing clients may want. She is affiliated with Bluewater Destinations and can be reached at

Liz says ” I consider my ‘specialties’ to be Disney and Florida vacations, all-inclusives (Cancun and Caribbean), and cruising, although I enjoy working on any and all vacation destinations for my clients.  The link to my travel Facebook page is“.


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Cameron’s Basketball Game, March 8 2014

March 8 2013

This morning we went to our grandson Cameron’s final basketball game of the season in the Northern Cincinnati Upward Sports League. Unfortunately his team, The Impalas, lost to the Bearcats (20-12) but Cameron had a good game, scoring half of his team’s total points

Ready to play  


He made the basket!DSC00025  

On the bench – but intent on the gameDSC00019                       

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