We got our tickets through a travel agency, because in such places it is much better to go in an organized group, and together with some friends we set off on a beautiful May day.
At the airport we were rigorously checked by the people from their airline “El Al”, each of us having individual interviews, where they ask you all the details of the trip: what do you want to do? What are you visiting? Who are you going with? Details about your travel partner?…you must know the answers to such questions very well. For me and my mother it went very quickly, but for a friend it took a very long time for this interview and they brought her last on the plane.
Once we arrived in Tel Aviv, we were picked up by bus, where we were going to ride all week, together with a Romanian speaking guide, a Romanian priest and all the other people in our group.
Our first stop was Haifa, a splendid city, port to the Mediterranean, situated in a beautiful bay at the foot of Mount Carmel. From above, we admired the Temple of the Bahai Cult, with its beautifully terraced Persian gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Afterwards, we stopped at the Stella Maris – Star of the Sea Church (seat of the Carmelite Monastic Order), with its altar above the Grotto of St. Elijah the Thezite.
We ended the day in Nazareth, visiting both the Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel, where we saw the Fountain of the Virgin Mary, and the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, which houses part of Joseph’s house in the basement (the Cave of the Holy Family).
In Nazareth we also had accommodation, for 2 nights, in a shabby 3-star hotel, but you have to be mentally prepared from home that you are on a pilgrimage, not a luxury holiday.
Also, the food wasn’t wow, but I was saved by the bagels and hummus throughout this vacation. All I could eat from there, as you didn’t go to eat where you wanted, but where the guidebook determined beforehand, stops being made at restaurants they knew and tried.
The next day we went to Mount Tabor, where the Lord changed His face and where we climbed the winding mountain by minibus. There, we visited the Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration, Capernaum (the town where Jesus lived after leaving Nazareth), Tabgha (a place reminiscent of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes), and Mount Happiness.
In Tiberias we made a stop at a restaurant, where we ate some very good fish and took a ride on a replica of the “Jesus boat” on the waters of the Sea of Galilee.
Exhausted, after a long day of sightseeing and bus riding, we arrived at the hotel for dinner, where all I wanted to do was shower and sleep.
I have to tell you that on this pilgrimage, we wake up very early in the morning and after breakfast, we set off again. For this day we were going to go to the Monastery of St. Sava and St. Theodosius (access to the monastery is allowed only to men). Women can just pray from outside and admire the beautiful scenery around.
After St. Saviour’s, we headed to the birthplace of the Lord in Bethlehem (where we were staying for the rest of the trip), to the Church of the Nativity. It is a very beautiful church, home to the miracle-working Icon of Our Lady and the Cave where Jesus Christ was born, the Milk Grotto.
It was one of the churches I enjoyed most on this pilgrimage, although I queued for over an hour just to get into the place where Jesus was born.
Also on this day we went to Jericho, the city with the oldest history in the world, where we saw the Romanian Settlement, the Dud of Zacchaeus, the monastery of St. Gerasim (a Greek Orthodox monastery near Jericho, erected in honor of the saint at the foot of the mountains in the Judean Desert. It is the first monastery founded in the Jordan Valley) and the Jordan River, the original site of the Savior’s baptism.
We also had the pleasure of being baptized in the waters of Jordan, for which we purchased special baptismal gowns from there.
On this pilgrimage, we also had the opportunity to go to the Dead Sea, which is located between Israel and Jordan and is actually a salt lake in southwest Asia. Also called the Dead Sea, the Salt Sea and the Lot Sea, this sea is the lowest body of water on Earth, with the lowest elevation on land. It lies 422 metres below sea level. Dead Sea water is about 10 times saltier than normal ocean water.
The water and mud here have very good properties for skin conditions, and you can buy a lot of salts and cosmetics for various ailments.
The next two days we spent in Jerusalem, also called the City of Peace, on the Mount of Olives, where we visited: The Orthodox Monastery of the Ascension of the Lord reminiscent of the Ascension of the Lord to heaven; the Pater Noster Monastery, the place where according to tradition the Saviour taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father”; the “Dominus Flevit” (“The Lord wept”) Monastery built in the shape of a teardrop, the Garden of Gethsemane with the Church of the Nations built on the spot where the Saviour prayed before being captured and the Church of the Tomb of the Mother of God.
After touring so many churches, we headed to the Wailing Wall, where women and men are not allowed to pray together, but are separated by a cordon. The energy there is very strong and there you can see a lot of ultra-Orthodox, who are not too happy to see you.
Of course, here you have to be careful with your outfit, which should be decent, long dress, long trousers, covered shoulders and it is good to have a scarf to cover your head.
The day ended with Mount Zion, the Last Supper Fireplace, the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Tomb of David, and the next day I had a chance to see what I wanted most from this pilgrimage: The Holy Tomb.
We reached it by passing through the city of Jerusalem through St. Stephen’s Gate. We walked the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross), with the 14 stops of the Jesus Christ, where we could worship at all the holy places: Golgotha, the Stone of Anointing and the Holy Tomb.
I can’t describe the feeling I had when I got there, as it can only be felt; something extraordinary, an extraordinary energy and calm, especially for me, who is restless non-stop.
On the last day of the pilgrimage, we went to Ein Karem, the place where the Virgin Mary met Elizabeth. Here we visited the Church of St. John the Baptist built on the birthplace of “the greatest man born of woman”. We then visited the old town of Lod, where we admired the church housing the relics of St George.
Before we got to the airport, they gave us 1h free time through Tel Aviv, which is amazing, as little as I got to see it, but extremely expensive.
For a simple sandwich we paid 25 euros, and when I say simple, just think bread and cheese, but it made up for the walk along the sea.
The view is gorgeous and Tel Aviv is something special. I think you should take a holiday just here to discover the gastronomy and all the city has to offer.
Once we arrived at the airport, we went through another interview, which I had for the whole group, asking me what I did on this trip? What did we visit? If anyone had joined the group? If everyone was with us for the entire trip? Lots of questions, to make sure everything was okay.
Definitely, YES. And if you’re lucky enough to meet a good priest with grace who can tell you about all the places you’ve visited, your holiday will be spiritually, culturally and emotionally charged. And I say this because I have been on pilgrimage to Israel two years in a row, where the first time we were lucky enough to meet an exceptional priest who fascinated us with his stories, and the second time we were not so lucky, because the priest in question did not impress us at all. Perhaps because the second year we linked the pilgrimage with Jordan as well, it didn’t feel so spiritual all over again, but more commercial.
I believe that at least once in one’s life, one should make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
It is a journey for the soul that will amaze, thrill, calm and clear your mind.
After a week in Israel, you will return much more peaceful and fulfilled by all you have been given to see and feel.