We had another early start this morning: alarm call at 6am, bags packed by 7 and on the coach at 7.30, to be dropped off at the gate like a bell (the dung gate).
Under the western wall is a tunnel running a short length of the temple mount, exposing some of the lower stonework and cisterns from Herod’s structure. The tunnel is also used by many Jewish women to pray, because it gets them closer to the place where the original holy of holies was thought to be than they can manage at the women’s section of the western wall.
The tunnel & structures are mildly interesting, with the few scraps of ‘original’ pavement where Jesus may have walked giving a slightly stronger sense of history. There’s a huge stone, estimated at 570 tons, supporting the wall down there too, and it must have been an incredible feat getting it into place. Also impressive is the quality of stone work required to get the stones to butt together with barely a gap between.
Previous excavations made by Warren in the late 1800s come up during the explanations. It seems Warren ‘discovered’ quite a bit, sometimes having to find novel ways to access parts that he wasn't welcome to explore, and plenty of features got named for him.
Eventually walking through the tunnel, we came to a place where the ceiling is high: probably 25 feet above us, and that indicates the height of the current pavement. The original walls would have been very tall, requiring high ramps and stairs for access to the temple area.
After emerging in the city we walk through the Damascus gate to the garden tomb and Gordon Calvary area. We have a brief explanation about the area, why it was considered to be possibly authentic and then visit the wine press, putative Golgotha and garden tomb there. This area looks less unlikely to be authentic than the area given by tradition, but after 2000 years of erosion, it may be rather different in appearance from the time of Jesus - recently a piece of stone forming the ‘nose’ of the skull shape broke off, reducing the resemblance to a skull. A seating area is given for the group's use and we have readings, songs and communion. In earlier times I’d probably have found it wonderful, but right then I’d have preferred to slip away and have time alone, however in the hope of better things I stuck it out.
At last we made our way back, walking to the hotel, arriving rather sweaty from the heat and the climb but with no chance of a shower. Bags are loaded onto the coach and we’re finally on our way. A quick stop at the town where Emmaus was, then on to an Elvis burger bar to get ripped off $16 for burger and chips. The burger bar is striking and very different, and Raja the driver is ‘in heaven’, but traditional Jewish it ‘aint.
And so to the airport.
After the usual quizzing and security checks we make it through to the departure lounge. Biometric passport readers work very efficiently. There’s a fountain in the middle of the lounge with an annulus in the ceiling through which water pours downwards like rain while the fountain sprays upwards. Quite elegant and unusual.
18.18pm. Boarding starts at 18.50pm.
Plane leaves at 7.50pm. The movie on the tiny screen ahead of me is ‘Gold’, but the controls built into the seat arm don’t work, so the only audio channel is French and the volume is at maximum. And the chap next to me is breathing out some serious garlic, so effective that even the plane air con can’t completely remove it. Ho hum, pigs bum as Kita used to say, only another 4 hours - at least I've been able to write up the day.
Mr Fragrant next door speaks to the stewardesses and they go away & reboot the system several times, after which last occasion the English audio can also be heard, volume etc is now adjustable. It’s not all bad then.
We eventually arrive at Luton. Long queues for passport control, and this time I am rejected by the biometric scanner and get sent to another desk where I wait and wait, eventually being cleared. We get bags, say goodbye and the put warm clothes & jackets on to face the winds and rain waiting for us at the bus stop. Car collected, and our friends drive us home by a slightly curious route, to arrive around 1.15amUK/3.15am Israeli time. Glad I booked Tuesday off.