Touring the Holy Land

I’ve made you wait long enough for photos from my trip to Israel. It took longer than expected to eliminate the blurry, over-exposed, and repetitive photos from more than 2,500 images on five memory cards and at least 400 more on my tablet. There was a minor major hiccup when I accidentally deleted photos from my camera before downloading them to my laptop. However, I’m not too upset because I have plenty of pictures to remember the trip, and even more memories to savor until I can return to Jerusalem.

Before I boarded the plane in Newark, New Jersey to Tel Aviv, Israel, I upgraded my seat from Coach Economy to Coach Plus (definitely worth $107) and swallowed a sleeping pill. I was asleep before take-off. Ten hours later, I watched the sun rise over Athens, Greece {thanks to a handy-dandy map app on the 10-inch screen attached to the seat in front of me}. Still tired, I slept through breakfast too. On the return flight (from Tel Aviv to Newark), I upgraded to Coach Plus again (this time it cost me $127 for a wider seat, more leg room, + a window seat) and slept 10 hours.


If you have plans to visit the Holy Land, may I offer these three suggestions:

  1. lose all expectations
  2. become a dry sponge willing to soak up all the sights, sounds, and experiences
  3. wear comfortable shoes

In regards to expectations, it is important to remember that the Holy Land has endured battles, uproars, disagreements, wars, and power struggles for thousands of years. Modern ideals (i.e. religious law, gender roles, clothing, food, etc.) must respectfully take a backseat during your visit. I also suggest you dust off your history books and religious texts.

A long time ago, people with power and deep pockets ordered the construction of churches, cathedrals, and temples to be built on holy sites. I do not doubt the validity of these locations because in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter to me. Instead, I’m savoring memories like these: walking where Jesus walked; remembering my baptism at the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (but I don’t think John was a Baptist); and praying in the Garden of Gethsemane beside olive trees confirmed to have been present in Jesus’ time. We don’t have to agree, but that’s just plain cool!

According to tradition, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also called the Church of the Resurrection) sits atop Golgotha (Calvary). Visitors can kneel at an elaborate altar and touch the stone believed to have held Jesus’ cross. There is also a large stone slab in the Rotunda where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial, the Anointed Stone. Despite the extremely low light inside the church, photos of massive tile mosaics turned out better than expected. Another photo miracle came while standing in line to see the tomb of Jesus. I stared at a bronze angel for several minutes before taking its picture. The photo even has bokeh.


Once in Tel Aviv, we visited the coastal city of Jaffa. It was pouring rain so some pilgrims {fancy term for tourists in the Holy Land} stayed on the bus. Jaffa, I learned, is the oldest port in the world. According to the Bible, Jonah set sail from Jaffa before encountering the whale (or was it a fish?), and it was in Jaffa where Peter raised Tabitha from the dead.


Inside most temples, cathedrals, and churches were the most beautiful tile mosaics I have ever seen. Along the Via Dolorosa, I saw this incredible mosaic of Jesus carrying his cross. Every tile had to have been cut and polished by hand, then very carefully arranged to create this beautiful image. I’m still in awe.


The hill of Mount Zion, the highest point in Old Jerusalem, is dominated by the Church of the Dormition (bottom left photo). According to Christian tradition, it is the place where the Virgin Mary died. Nearby is The Upper Room, where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and served The Last Supper before being crucified, and King David’s Tomb. In the main area of the tomb, before the split between men-only and women-only areas, a grandmother-like woman grabbed my hand (no kidding!) when she saw my camera. Afraid I might take pictures (which I would not do after instructions from our tour guide), she escorted me through the room and back to the exit on the opposite side. She didn’t speak an ounce of English, but she made sure I followed the rules!

The Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu (bottom right photo) is a stone’s throw from The Upper Room, located on the lower east side of Mount Zion. This Roman Catholic Church takes its name from Peter’s triple rejection of Jesus. The church has been rebuilt several times, the latest construction in 1931, and further connects Peter with the golden rooster on the roof. Inside are multiple underground caves and crypts. Some believe Jesus was imprisoned here. On the north side of the church is an ancient staircase that leads to the Kidron Valley and many Christians believe Jesus followed this path down to the Garden of Gethsemane.




There were so many wonderful, magical moments on this trip. I had a blast following the footsteps of Jesus and visiting places important to his ministry. However, walking along the stone streets of Old Jerusalem put so much into context. I don’t know if it was the conglomeration of three major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) or the sense of old world charm in a bustling metropolis, but I loved every minute of it. Luckily, my tour group spent the last day of our pilgrimage in the Old City — and shared the Sacrament of Holy Communion in the Garden of the Empty Tomb — the perfect way to conclude our trip! Even though the final day focused on the Via Dolorosa, I intentionally stayed at the back of the pack (like I normally do in large group settings) to capture lifestyle shots. Anybody can Google the places I’ve seen, but I wanted photos that captured the essence of the people who live, work, and thrive inside the ancient city walls. There were open-air markets and street vendors selling shawarma (meat prepared on a rotating spit), brightly colored scarves blowing in the breeze, a variety of candies and sweet treats on display tables, and more fresh produce than this country girl could ever imagine!


Where there is water, I usually find a way in. I swam floated in the Dead Sea and now I’m a frequent shopper of AVAHA Dead Sea products. My daily skincare routine includes cleansers, toners, scrubs, masks, and hydrating lotions packed with black mud or saltwater from the Dead Sea. After dining on Saint Peter’s fish (similar taste and texture of tilapia) at a family-style restaurant along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I snuck away from the group to dip my feet in the (very cool) water. The large rocks provided perfect coverage for my secret mission. Moments later, the group discovered my location as they began boarding a large cruising boat for another tour. The skies were a perfect shade of blue, the water was nice and calm, and the captain turned off the engines and played a soft melody of It Is Well With My Soul over the speakers.


When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When you have the opportunity to sit atop a camel, just do it already! There were 54 adults standing and gawking, talking about how cool it would be to ride a camel, but nobody was willing to get on the furry animal until Yours Truly demonstrated it was perfectly safe. I’m glad to take one for the team … and do something I’ve never done before!!!


I hope you enjoyed this post and perhaps you learned a few things too. I’d love to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land again sometime, especially with my Mom. Have you traveled to the Holy Land? The Middle East? What were your favorite spots? What other destinations are on your dream list? Someday, I want to travel to Africa and Asia.


By |2013-03-17T00:30:38+00:00March 17th, 2013|Blog, Photography|33 Comments

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  1. MaitoMike March 17, 2013 at 1:58 am - Reply

    Looks like you had a really enjoyable trip! I might just take up your advice and visit the many sights you had the privilege of exploring. I had the same disaster with my photos and camera, but at least the ones you have posted are amazing. Good job!

    • Nicole March 17, 2013 at 9:48 am - Reply

      Thanks Mike! My trip WAS amazing and I honestly can’t wait to return someday. Hopefully, next time, I won’t delete precious photos before I get home (har dee har har). Ohhh the joys of precious technologies. Where’s the undo button?! If you ever get the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem, I highly recommend the travel group, Educational Opportunities. They are masters at their craft and take care of every little detail. The hotels, the tour guides and bus drivers, and even the camaraderie is perfection. I will definitely take another trip (or 20) with E.O.

      Blessings, Nicole

      • MaitoMike March 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm - Reply

        Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll certainly consider traveling with E.O. if I’m headed to that part of the world. Cheers!

        • Nicole March 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm - Reply

          I would definitely check out E.O.’s website because they offer tour groups that travel ALL OVER the world. It’s not just to the Middle East. Let me know if you sign up, I might want to go where you’re going to. LOL Cheers to you …. and happy Saint Patrick’s Day. I just realized I’m not wearing green anymore. oops. =)

          • MaitoMike March 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm

            Oh I’ll definitely be blogging about it and will certainly give it a mention if I do decide to travel with E.O.! Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you as well – the day when we’re all Irish! I’ve been sporting green all day but I had my share of Guinness last night. Drink responsibly!

  2. Helen (@EatEnjoyLive) March 17, 2013 at 6:10 am - Reply

    Wow Nicole! It looks like you had such a wonderful time. I’m sure the memories you have will last a lifetime. Thank You for sharing this amazing experience with us all 🙂

    • Nicole March 17, 2013 at 9:55 am - Reply

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Helen. This trip WAS incredible and I hope others can visit the Holy Land for themselves one day. Blessings + Hugs to you! =)

  3. Judith Isaacson March 17, 2013 at 6:31 am - Reply

    Nicole, Amazing account of an amazing trip. Your photos are gorgeous – and your unusual shots are very special. I love your 3 suggestions in the opening lines – and would add to bring sun protection since even in winter, the sun is strong in this part of the world.

    • Nicole March 17, 2013 at 9:50 am - Reply

      Judith, thank you so much for commenting and sharing such kind words. Your reminder about sunscreen is so true, definitely a must-have item all year long. Blessings + Hugs.

  4. Celeste Zachry March 17, 2013 at 7:11 am - Reply

    Thank you for this trip. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but would also like to see many more of your lovely photos sometime! I would love to go, but not during the school year, unless during a break. You know, I’ve got this teaching gig going on…

    • Nicole March 17, 2013 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Teaching gig, blah blah blah. TOTALLY KIDDING!!!!!! I completely understand. Perhaps touring the Holy Land can be a Zachry Family Vacation …. where Auntie NeeeCole gets to be your assistant tour guide. LOL

  5. Becky March 17, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply

    Amazing! This is so beautiful and what an AMAZING oppertunity Nicole. I’m sure you made memories you’ll never forget. Would love to visit someday and see where Jesus walked. Thanks for sharing I loved this 🙂

    • Nicole March 17, 2013 at 9:53 am - Reply

      Becky, touring the Holy Land is a trip of a lifetime and one I will not soon forget. I highly recommend it for everyone, it’s a destination worth seeing at least once. Personally, I can’t wait to go back …. the shawarma, Dead Sea, olive wood sculptures, and Israeli wine are calling my name. HAHAHA!!!!! I’m so glad you loved this post, this is a proud blogger moment for me. =)

      Blessings + Hugs, Nicole

  6. Lindsey Steele March 18, 2013 at 3:49 am - Reply

    Girl if and when you go back, I want to go with you! I have always wanted to go tour the Holy Lands and after watching The Bible I definitely want to go and see for myself the sights! We would have a great time together!

    • Nicole March 18, 2013 at 6:51 am - Reply

      Sign me up ….. that Husband of yours said he’d pay for both of us to go anytime, right?! I am definitely returning to the Holy Land someday soon, it’s such an incredible place. I, too. have been watching *The Bible* and while it is good, it was filmed in Morocco and doesn’t give the place justice. However, last night’s episode with Jesus in the wilderness is pretty accurate: desert, mountains, and barren land.

      Blessings + Hugs, Nicole

  7. Holli March 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Amazing! That is all i can say. Your pictures truly captured the feel of your trip and i am green with envy. I really want to go so bad! The garden pic is beautiful and you’re so cute in front of the water.

    • Nicole March 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm - Reply

      Awww, thank you, Holli. The trip WAS amazing and I’m so ready to return. Let’s leave tonight!!!!! Blessings + Hugs, Nicole

  8. shaggysheephome March 20, 2013 at 10:27 am - Reply

    You are so blessed. I love this post and all the pictures. Being catholic it has been a passion of mine to visit the holy land.

    • Nicole March 20, 2013 at 10:44 am - Reply

      Solange, thank you. You’re so right, I really AM blessed and this opportunity to tour the Holy Land was AMAZING. I’m so thankful for the experience and being able to see, taste, smell, hear, and touch the land that’s so rich in history and significance!!!! You have to go someday, it’s a must-see place. Blessings + Hugs.

  9. lesleycarter May 9, 2013 at 11:18 pm - Reply

    I’m adding Israel to the list now! Amazing post and photos 🙂

    • Nicole May 10, 2013 at 6:54 am - Reply

      Oh Lesley, thank you so much. You will LOVE Israel, I cannot wait to go back myself. I loved Bethlehem, Galilee, the Dead Sea, and Jerusalem. Such beautiful people and places …. not to mention the HISTORY that’s centered in that region of the world! When you decide to go, let me know, I want to go with you!!!! Blessings + Hugs. =)

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  20. allinthedayofme April 21, 2015 at 11:07 am - Reply

    I loved your post! My husband and I went to the Holy Land several years ago and would love to go again. We have such wonderful memories! I relived our trip while reading your post! I can still hear my husband singing, “I walked today where Jesus walked” as we walked through the streets of Cana! Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    • Nicole April 21, 2015 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Thank YOU for the kind words! I am so in love with Israel, not just the country but the people too. The sights, the sounds, the food, the historical places, it’s all a holy treat for your mind, body, and soul. I was there in February 2013 and discovered I was pregnant (BIG SURPRISE) in May 2013. It’s a trip of al lifetime, and a pilgrimage I want to experience again. 🙂

      Blessings, Nicole

      On Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 11:07 AM, Three 31 wrote:


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