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Israel and Jordan 2018 Travel Journal

day 1

Hello friends! It has been a long day of travel but I am happy to report that we have all arrived safely in Tel Aviv with only one lost suitcase. Mine! However, we know that it didn’t make the trip from Frankfurt. We were reassured that it would be delivered to our hotel tomorrow. After two short flights and one long one we are all ready to rest, acclimate, and explore. Once we touched down in Tel Aviv, we quickly made our way through baggage claim to meet our coach and our escort, Iyad. From there, we received a short and detailed introduction to our tour of the holy land while on our way to the Hotel in Netanya.

Thank you all for your prayers of safe travel. We are all tired but so excited to have started our adventure, and we cannot wait to begin sharing with you updates and pictures. Tomorrow we will travel north to Netanya, Caesarea, Megiddo, Cana, and Tiberius! For now, however, we are all going to get some much needed sleep.

Goodnight and God bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 2

Good afternoon friends! First, let me alleviate what I am sure is everyone’s top worry: yes, my luggage was returned to me! So to everyone on the trip, thank you for the offer to pass around a bag so you could all donate an article of clothing to me. Your generosity humbles me and I’m blessed to be with so giving a group.

We have now wrapped up our second day in Israel and are so excited for what we have seen and what is to come. Though we are still acclimating to the time change and travel, our energy is high from witnessing the rich history all around us. We began our day with a wonderful breakfast in our hotel before heading out of Netanya and towards Caesarea. There, we learned about the area’s rich history from its founding by Herod the Great, its prominence during the Byzantine Empire, its decline from natural and man made forces during the crusades, and its revitalization during the modern area. Sitting in the Roman theater, walking through the ruins of King Herod’s palace, and seeing the Roman hippocampus made all of this history real and vivid.

Following Caesarea, we made our way inland, towards the ruins of Megiddo, an area we may all recognize by its more common name, Armageddon. On our way, we made two stops: (1) an almost 2000 year old section of Roman aqueduct that brought fresh water over ten miles to Caesarea; and (2) Mount Carmel, were Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to prove whose God was true. Megiddo is a truly fascinating ruin because it has been sacked and rebuilt 12 times throughout the course of history. We took time to walk its streets in order to learn what life was like in the ancient world. In what is a truly awe inspiring experience, we left the city through its man made well, a tunnel dug 200 feet down through solid stone constructed so the citizens would have access to fresh water even when the city was under siege by opposing armies.

After Megiddo, we made our way to the city of Nazareth were we walked to The Church of the Annunciation, a cathedral built where we believe the Angel told Mary she would be the mother of Jesus. One of the fascinating things about this cathedral, other than its history, is its architecture. Though the building is made of stone and marble, the interior is designed to look like it is made of wooden beams. This is to reflect that both Jesus and Joseph were carpenters. Once we finished our tour of the church, we continued to short tour of the city of Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.

Feet tired and hearts full, we ended our day at our hotel in Tiberius where we were met with the most beautiful sight in the world, my suitcase! We enjoyed a delicious dinner where we reflected on our day before spending our evening hours as we wished. Tomorrow, we continue our voyage by crossing the Sea of Galilee. Have a wonderful evening friends and we will write you again tomorrow.


James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 3

Shalom Shabbat! Happy Sabbath to you, friends!…or happy day after the sabbath… because the internet is a bit spotty. We have had an incredibly fulfilling day of exploration and spiritual fulfillment. As will probably be our pattern this trip, we are tired but incredibly happy. Our pillows look more inviting than normal, but we didn’t want this day to slip by without writing you first.

We began our day with a boat tour across the Sea of Galilee. Iyad took this opportunity to tell us some of the sea’s history, and he also pointed out numerous landmarks and cities around the sea. We ended the tour with a time of worship and devotion on the waters that Jesus also sailed across during his ministries. Taking in the landscape and the history on a calm and clear day is a memory I am sure we will all carry with us for years to come.

Once we made land again, we drove up a mountain to see Caesarea-Philipi. This site is home to a beautiful grove of fig trees and a mountain spring that created one of the most calming landscapes we have experienced. Caesarea-Philipi, if it sounds familiar, is also the location where Jesus and the disciples would go for rest, and where Jesus told Peter that he is the rock, and upon this rock he will build his church. We ended our time exploring the area to see the remains of the Roman temples to Augustus, Pan, and Nemesis that used to have stood there.

Following this, we continued around the Sea of Galilee to the Church of Heptapegon. This is the location many believe Jesus fed the 5000. To reflect this, the church is beautifully decorated with mosaics of nature, fish, and loaves of bread. Leaving the church, we were also feeling the need to be fed, so we were led by Iyad to a wonderfully delicious meal at Magdalena. After spending the morning both on the water and on the mountain, it was exactly what we needed.

The rest, food, and water prepared us for the ruins of the city of Capernaum, the city where the four friends made a hole in a ceiling to lower their sick friend to Jesus. Here, we were able to view some of the city’s ruins to envision what the city used to be like, and we walked through a reconstruction of a second century synagogue. This stop afforded us insight into how people lived during Jesus’s time. We then visited the gardens on Mount of the Beatitudes. Here, we visited the beautiful octagonal cathedral erected at the site, and took time to reflect on Jesus’ messages.

Leaving the mountain, we began our way to the Jordan River, but we stopped first at the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter. This is the location where many believe Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” After a quick driving tour of the Golan Heights, we arrived at the Jordan River, where some of our group were baptized, some of them for the first time! It was a wonderful way to end this day in worship.

Returning to our hotel, we prepared for dinner and enjoyed a time of fellowship reflecting on our day. We are so appreciative of your continued prayers for safe travel and good experiences. Tomorrow, we are saying goodbye to Israel for a few days as we travel into Jordan. We can’t wait to tell you about what is still yet to come.

Goodnight and God bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 4

Good evening, all! For the first time, my message is coming to you from Jordan! We have had an exciting day of travel through Jordan and have settled safely into our hotel in Aman. Crossing the boarder by land was an experience we will remember, but all went smoothly. We were settled on our new coach and met with a very warm welcome by our new guide, Ed…. Really his name is Raid (pronounced Rah-ed), but “Ed” will do for us Americans. (For those of you who just learned our first guides name, fear not. Iyad will be waiting for us when we return to Israel in a few days!)

Before going through boarder control, we stopped at the archeology site of Bet Sheàn. Though there is little biblical mention of Bet Sheàn, it was still a major city for hundreds of years and was a great example of what life was like 2000 years ago. In addition to learning about the way of life, we also had time to explore the ruins to admire the architecture of the theater, temple, and main road. As one of the best intact examples of a classical city, it was a eye opening example of what these people were capable of in regards to their construction and art.

Once we were through the border, Raid gave us a wonderful explanation of Jordan’s biblical and cultural history. His explanation and the stunning scenery around us made our ride into the country a wonderfully educational and enjoyable experience. Soon we stopped for lunch before we ascended Mount Nebo. As many of you know, Mount Nebo is the place where Moses looked over into the Promised Land after the Hebrews wandered in the desert for 40 years. There we enjoyed the awe inspiring views, and attempted to capture them on our cameras. We also enjoyed an in-depth discussion over the local history and the biblical cultures from modern day Jordan.

Finally, we traveled to our hotel in Aman for dinner and rest. Though it may seem like a short day, the historical lessons have been deep, we have traveled far, and we must prepare for our day tomorrow when we make the trek to Petra. Many of us are finally acclimated to our travel schedule and we will need a good night of solid sleep for the walking we will do tomorrow. With that we will say our goodbyes until tomorrow. If you haven’t yet, make sure you take a moment to look at the pictures we have uploaded to our Shutterfly account.

Goodnight and God bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 5

With a very tired but happy message let us say, hello. Though today’s report is going to be short, don’t let it deceive you. It is just coming to you through tired eyes and sore feet. Today’s expedition was long, exciting, humbling, and something we will take with us for the rest of our lives. Today we hiked to Petra.

After waking up and eating early, we boarded the bus for the 3 hour drive it took us to reach Petra. Along the way, Raid spoke to us about many of the landmarks we would see, the histories of the area, and the culture of the Bedouin people who settled there. We also learned some of the significance of the Bible’s stories, such as Moses being instruction of speaking to the rock to draw water instead of striking it. In Petra, rain water will slowly eat away the limestone until it forms a pool inside the rock, and striking the rock can crack it, releasing the water. So Moses did what he thought was best, and not what God thought was best.

Once we reached Petra we were left to hike down to into the valley by ourselves, on horseback, or by cart (and some by camel for the later stretches). Let me apologize now, good people: I am sorry, but no amount of words and no amount of pictures will do this wonder justice! Though Petra is not counted as one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, it should be. We can tell you so, we’ve been there! We can describe the burial chambers carved 200 feet high on solid stone walls. We can show you countless shades of red of the walls and the crystal blue of the sky above them, but nothing will capture what it was truly like to be there and walk among these works of art. It is breath taking and…despite all of the above…leaves you speechless. We only wish we had more time to explore it.

Finally, at about 8 o’clock in the evening, we stumbled into our hotel’s dining room for dinner. We are all tired and ready for sleep, but are so full from the days events. Tomorrow is another early rise for us as we are returning back across the border to Israel to continue our journey. If you are looking for photos, we will be uploading as many as possible once we have a stable internet connection. Thank you for all of your prayers from home.

Goodnight and God bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 6

Good afternoon, friends. We are writing to you again from Israel! Though we are all a little tired from our day of rising early and the many activities there in, we are still in good spirits. Knowing that our voyage is now at its halfway mark, we are focusing on each location more and more as we don’t want to miss anything. Still, the desert mountains around us are a beautiful site, and we also appreciate the time of reflection and rest our day has afforded us.

We arose early this morning at five o’clock so we could be prepared to head to the border at seven. Though we were with Raid for only a few short days, he gifted us with new knowledge and new perspectives that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. This morning, Raid was wise in getting us to the border early because we found out from Iyad, after we had met up with him again, that it can sometimes take hours to get through the lines at the crossing. For us, we beat the crowds and were through in only one hour and on our way to Jericho!

On our way, however, we first made a quick stop at Qasar El-Yahud, a location where the Jordan River divides Israel and Jordan. Here we were given one last close up look at Jordan. We looked across the river to Jordan where a church was built to commemorate the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. From here we began driving through Jericho. Iyad shared with us many amazing facts about the city. We made several stops as we traveled through the city. We experienced the mountain of temptation (where Jesus was tested during his 40 days in the desert), viewed a sycamore tree commemorating the story of Zacchaeus and did a little  shopping at a Byzantine glass shop where they hand make Hebron Glass.

For lunch, we ate, toured, and shopped at the archeological dig site of Qumran. Qumran is the location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found! Though they were first discovered more than 50 years ago, Iyad told us that even today, Bedouin’s are still finding cave tunnels in the mountain that could hold additional artifacts. In addition to Qumran’s recent history, it was also an amazing example of how people survived in the desert more than 2000 years ago using cisterns and aqueducts.

Today, we ended our tour earlier than normal so we could rejuvenate ourselves at our hotel and the Dead Sea. Now, rejuvenating yourself in the Dead Sea might sound like an oxymoron, but in truth the Dead Sea is now known for its spa retreats and the renewing minerals in its waters and soils. We took some time to experience floating in the waters of the Dead Sea and soothing our tired muscles. As a professional tip, I will tell you not to put your face in the water unless you want to lose your vision for about ten minutes…not that I know from experience!

Following our swim, we all took the evening to relax at our leisure. Tomorrow, we are excited to leave in the morning as we are traveling even further into the desert to see the ruins of Masada. We cannot wait to see you again to share with you all of our stories and photos. We promise to stay safe as long as you continue to pray for safe travels.

Goodnight and God bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 7

Hello from Jerusalem! We have reached our last hotel for the trip, so we are all happy for the chance to settle in if only for a few days. With our rejuvenated skin and muscles, today we spent our morning in the great outdoors around the Dead Sea before we continued on towards Jerusalem. The rocky and dusty landscape that surrounded us is a different kind of beautiful. Throughout our hikes, we attempted to capture and take in as much as we could.

Our morning began with a short trip to Masada, an site that has a fascinating but tragic story. Masada was a palace retreat originally built by Herod the Great on top of one of the highest plateaus in the area. With its huge cisterns and storehouses, we can best describe it as a Roman bath in the middle of the desert. Also, it’s on top of a mountain! It’s architecture and engineering was fascinating to take in. Even if history and feats of engineering did not capture our attention, the panoramic views from the top made it well worth our time. It’s clear to see why Herod wanted this mountain for his retreat.

Masada is also the location of an important historical event in Israel’s history. During the Jewish revolt of the Roman Empire (around 70 A.D.), some of the rebellion used Masada as a strong hold. The Roman army, wanting to make an example of these men, women, and children, built a ramp up to the walls of Masada and constructed a battering tower to break through the walls. What the Romans found when they entered the city, however, was that everyone except for two women and five children had chosen to die rather than become slaves to Rome. Today, Israel remembers this event by, on various occasions, bringing Army cadets up the mountain to be sworn into the military saying, “Masada fell once, but it will never fall again.”

Following our walk around Masada, we took a short drive to the national reserve of En Gedi. Here, we enjoyed a pleasant walk on a simple path to a small waterfall. It was amazing to see such an abundance of water come out of what appears to be hard rocky ground. By this waterfall we took time to reflect on the Bible with the story of David and King Saul, for it was in this location that David, while being hunted, hid away from Saul. Though we were told to lookout for some wildlife, we sadly were not able to spot any on this trip. Still, the weather was warm and pleasant and the time to stretch our legs before we said goodbye to the Dead Sea was welcomed.

After about an hour’s drive, we passed through a security checkpoint and entered into the city of Jerusalem. Looking over the homes and the churches spread out before us was breathtaking. Shortly, we transitioned from Jerusalem to Bethlehem where we stopped for a fast lunch. We were treated to a time of shopping for hand carved items crafted from olive wood: figurines, nativities, tools, and jewelry (though most of the jewelry was not wood).

After our shopping moment, Iyad surprised us with a sudden addition to our day. While we were shopping, he was busy contacting other tour guides and he found out the Church of the Nativity was peculiarly free for the time of day. Hurrying over and having to wait for only a few minutes, we were able to have a time of worship in the lower section of the church, the place identified as the area where Jesus was born. This moment felt perfect and too short at the same time. It was a God given time that we will cherish the rest of our lives.

We ended our day in a garden known as The Shepherd’s Fields. Here, we enjoyed a longer moment of worship where we reflected on our day and the miracle of the nativity. Checking into our hotel, we were all a little taken aback by everything we had accomplished today. We are going to take this moment to rest as much as possible because tomorrow we will be going into the old city of Jerusalem, and much of that tour will be on foot. With that, let us say good afternoon and good evening as tomorrow will be another full day.

Goodnight and God bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 8

Well it has  happened again. We are giving you a very tired and feet weary hello today. We have marched all over Jerusalem, and though our feet are tired and numb, we are also so happy to have checked several items off of our “must see” list. None of us will make it long past dinner tonight, and none of us are complaining about it!

We began our day with a walk to and through the Garden Tomb. With as much turmoil as Jerusalem has experienced in its long history, no one is exactly sure of specifically where biblical events took place. The Garden Tomb, however, is a unique spot because it is a garden by a spot that could be Golgotha and is away from the street vendors and crowds that are common in other areas. Here, we took time to reflect on the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the Eucharist. We also had a time of worship where we took communion together. It was a great way to begin the morning.

Following our worship, we walked through the old city section of Jerusalem. It was fascinating to see how modern society has continued to run business and develop an area so old. Our walk brought us to Saint Anne’s Church and the Pool of Bethesda. Here we had a chance to sing a song of worship in the amazing acoustics of the cathedral. For the rest of our time there, we explored the church grounds, including an old monastery ruin built above where the Pool of Bethesda is thought to be.

Leaving the church, we began to follow the Via Dolorosa towards the Western Wall. At the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, we were met with a unique experience. Today, many of the Jewish residents had gathered at the wall to celebrate their sons’ Bar Mitzvahs. We took time to explore the plaza, pray at the wall, and take in as much of the culture as we could.

After the Wall, we took some time to shop before walking to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also called the Church of the Resurrection. This is a cathedral built on top of another location traditionally believed to be the place Jesus could have been Crucified and buried. This church is gorgeously decorated and is an amazing site to take in. The natural path of the church takes you up a set of steep steps constructed over the hill believed to be where the crucifixion took place, back down and passed a slate where it is believed Jesus’s body was prepared, and to a Sepulcher built above where the tomb is believed to be. Though it was crowded, we all enjoyed our time in this church.

Finally, we walked back out of the old city and to the bus, returning to the hotel. It has been a busy day, but also one we would all do again. If you have been looking for photos from the trip, the internet has not been cooperating with our uploads. Rest assured that we will upload photos once we return. Nearing the end of our trip we are thinking of home and the excitement in our last days here. We are also thinking of sleep.

Goodnight and God bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 9

Shalom Shabbat Again! Some of you might have been expecting that greeting again tomorrow, but the sabbath has already begun for us as the sun has already set on Israel. Today’s recap may be the last of the trip as tomorrow is a free day, unless our members chose to participate in an extra expedition. Nevertheless, our last total group trek across the city was highly enjoyable and educational. Though we are all conscious of the fact that we will be leaving soon, we are still taking every moment to enjoy our time.

This morning we began by loading into the bus and driving across Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. On the way, our first stop was at the Church of Saint Lazarus. This cathedral is built on or near the location it is believed Lazarus was raised from the dead. This church is gorgeously decorated with some of the most ornate mosaics showing a few of the teachings and miracles of Jesus. We also enjoyed this church’s fantastic acoustics by singing Holy, Holy, Holy.

Continuing up to the top of the Mount of Olives, we began to walk down into the valley, making a few stops along the way. First, we stopped at the Chapel of the Ascension, a small church built over the traditional site where Jesus ascended to heaven. Though this site is now owned by a mosque, visitors are still permitted to see the site, and different denominations of churches are allowed in once a year for formal worship. Second, we continued down the mountain to Pater Noster, a location where Jesus could have taught his disciples the LORD’s Prayer. The church on this location has the LORD’s Prayer in dozens of languages decorating its walls. A great location to walk through and reflect.

Further down the mountain, we stopped at several overlooks where we could capture stunning views of the old city. Here, Iyad showed us where in the city we had walked yesterday. He also pointed out a few more notable landmarks, such as the Sealed Gate also known as the Golden Gate to the city. He told us about some other locations we could not reach, such as the Church of Mary Magdalene. What made this church unique is that is was built by the Russian church so it was crowned with the classic golden onion dome of many Russian towers.

Finally, we ended our walk down the Mount at the Basilica of Gethsemane. This basilica was built in the same garden Jesus prayed in before the crucifixion. What makes this site truly remarkable is that the olive trees here are well over 1500 years old, with several believed to be 2000 years old. It’s stunning to think that some of these trees could have still been here while Jesus was in this garden. Here, we also took some time to explore the church and its gardens in private reflection before we returned to the bus and on to our next location.

After a lunch stop, we drove to the Gate of Zion where we walked to the Upper Room and the Tomb of King David, two sites very close to each other. It is believed that the Upper Room is a location near where Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples. There we also shared a brief devotional, before leaving and entering into the Tomb of King David. The tomb is a memorial to King David (the Bible tells us that David was buried within his city). Controlled by the Orthodox Jews, there are private sections for both men and women.

We ended our day by walking to the Convent of the Assumptionist Fathers, so if any fathers out there think this is where you belong then they’ll take you (my family didn’t think that was funny either). This convent is home to the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, so named because it is believed this is where Jesus was held in prison on the night of his arrest and where Peter denied him three times. We toured the church and it’s gardens, enjoying its vibrant artwork and landscape. We ended our time by going into the depths of the church, observing the guard chambers, and the pit believed to be where Jesus was held. In the pit, we held a brief time of worship and song before returning to our hotel for the evening

Jerusalem has been an amazing city to visit. We will all be sad to leave, but we have enjoyed sharing our favorite parts of the trip with each other over dinner. For our free day tomorrow, we are largely left to our own wants and desires, so we are sure to have lots to share with each other tomorrow night. Both homesick and hating to leave, we are preparing ourselves for our flights home Sunday. Thank you all for your prayers while we have been away from home.

Goodnight and God bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours

day 10

Well, this is it. The end of our journey. It has been a phenomenal experience, and one that has changed us for the better. The memories, Bible lessons, and connections we have made are what we will cherish for years to come.

Sadly, there is not much to report on today. For our final day in Jerusalem we enjoyed a free day to spend at our discretion. Some met with Iyad one final time to enjoy an optional day tour. Some rested to recover from our days of exploration and to prepare for the travel home. Some went back into the city to rediscover the streets we had enjoyed before and do some shopping. No matter what we did, though, everyone enjoyed taking their last hours in Israel.

Sadly, this is the last you will hear from us until we are again stateside. This trip has been amazing and we would love your continued prayers for safety while traveling and smooth transitions through security and customs. Tomorrow, we will rise at the very early hour of 12:30 AM to have our bags out at 1:00 AM to board our coach at 1:30 AM to head for the airport. We will see you soon.

Goodnight and God Bless,

James McCluskey

McCluskey Tours


[James McCluskey is an English teacher at Ocoee Middle School, in Cleveland, Tennessee. He is married to Megan McCluskey, and is the son of Jay and Michelle McCluskey.]