Our group was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in the holy land.  We spent the first few days in Bethlehem and then traveled to Jerusalem.  I have a lot of pictures and stories to share, so I have tried to set up this page as a photo journal of the trip.  For quicker load times, I divided the photos into several pages.
Dec. 21-23  Dec. 24-25  Dec. 26  Dec. 27-28

December 27 was the last day in Jerusalem for half of us, 
so we spent the day sightseeing in and around the old city.
The western wall (or wailing wall) is one of the only portions of the second temple that remains intact.  For Jews, the wall is one of the most holy sites in Jerusalem and many people come there daily to pray and to tuck written prayers into the cracks between the blocks.
The Dome of the Rock is a mosque built on the site of the temples.  This particular site is holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, creating a lot of political tension and some attempts to destroy the mosque.  This site, the Temple Mount, has a significant role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and security is very tight.  We were not able to go into the mosque, but its gold dome is the centerpiece of most panoramic views of the city of Jerusalem. 
The next stop was a taxi ride up to the top of the Mt. of Olives and a hike down, stopping to see various churches and historical sites along the way.
View of the Mount of Olives from the Dome of the Rock (right)
View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (far right)

Heading down from the Mount of Olives, we came to the Church of the Pater Noster ("Our Father" in Latin), which contains plaques showing the Lord's Prayer in at least 142 languages (that is how many I counted, but they were all over the place, so I probably missed some).

Church of Pater Noster (far left)
Lord's Prayer in Greek (left)

The next stop was the tomb of the prophets Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah.  Our guide book told us archeological evidence suggests the tomb is much too recent to be that of the prophets, but we peeked in to see it anyhow.
This National Cemetery and Jewish Graveyard is the largest Jewish cemetery in the world.
The Sanctuary of Dominus Flevit was built in the 1950s to mark the spot where Jesus wept for Jerusalem.  The front of the chapel was glass with an outstanding view.
The Russian Church of Mary Magdelene was closed the day I was on the Mount of Olives, although we had seen it from the Temple Mount.  Half of our group stayed a couple extra days and were able to go back when it was open to take some pictures.
The last stop on our Mount of Olives adventure was the garden of Gethsemane (one of them), which is adjacent to the Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony).  The Gethsemane grotto and the virgin's tomb were nearby.
Based on this garden of Gethsemane, it looks like Jesus must have had his own staff of gardeners to keep the paths straight and pull weeds!
The Church of All Nations is very dimly lit with large purple windows that create a somber atmosphere, very well-designed for a church that commemorates the agony of the last days of Christ's life.
The Gethsemane grotto is a cave where Christ left his disciples while he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. 
Appropriately, when we left Gethsemane, we crossed the street back into the Old City to begin a walk along the Via Dolorosa that was a scavenger hunt as we followed directions to find all 14 stations of the cross.
There is a dispute as to where the Via Dolorosa actually begins, but one popularly held belief is that Jesus was brought before Pontious Pilate at the Tower of Antonia, making that the first station.  The second station is now a Franciscan monastery and contains two chapels that are part of the Via Dolorosa.

Inside the Condemnation Chapel (right)

Patterns etched in the rock where Roman soldiers played games at the place where Jesus was condemned (left)

Stained glass window inside the Chapel of Flagellation, where Jesus was flogged


The third station is marked by a small chapel and marks the spot where Jesus fell the first time while carrying his cross.
The fourth station (left) marks where Jesus saw his mother and the fifth station (right) is where Simon the Cyrene volunteered to carry the cross for Jesus.
The sixth station (left) is where Veronica wiped Jesus' face and is marked on the remains of a column.  The seventh station (right) is where Jesus fell the second time.
The eighth station (far left) marks the spot where Jesus said to the women mourning him, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, weep rather for yourselves and for your children."  The ninth station is where Jesus fell the third time.
The last five stations are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and mark the locations where Jesus was stripped, nailed to the cross, crucified, received by Mary, and buried.
Bright and early the next morning, as the sun was rising, four of us headed to the bus station for another 17 hours of traveling back to Cairo.  The trip was long and uncomfortable, but relatively uneventful.  
At least our early morning wake up was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over the Old City
We were a little surprised when we arrived at the border and had to pay a 70 shekel exit fee.  We were able to do it by paying in shekels, Egyptian pounds, and dollars (left).


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