While I’m enjoying a little maternity leave blog break, I’ve got a few awesome guest bloggers who’ll be sharing their adventures with y’all.  Today’s travel guest post is brought to you by Nicole of Three 31.  Enjoy!
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Hey BFOTD readers! My name is Nicole and I blog at Three 31 — connect with me on social media too! I am a sweet tea drinking, Jesus loving, country girl from Kentucky married to a Texan named Husband. (Well, that’s not really his name but that’s what I call him.) We live near Fort Worth on a small spread with a white horse named Blue. While I have never given birth to another human, I consider my eighth grade students (129 in all) to be my precious, annoying, and hormonal angel babies. When I’m not blogging or teaching language arts, I enjoy photography, cooking, target shooting, reading, mission and volunteer work, reality TV, and traveling. My most recent travel experience and passport stamp came from Israel where I toured the Holy Land. athens
If you have plans to visit the Holy Land, may I offer the following suggestions:

  1. lose all expectations
  2. become a dry sponge willing to soak up all the sights, sounds, and experiences
  3. wear comfortable shoes + sunscreen
  4. take your camera, extra batteries + memory cards too

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. 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. churchofreschurchofres2 Once the tour group left the airport in Tel Aviv, we went to the coastal city of Jaffa, 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. jaffasmall 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 (about 8-feet tall and 20-feet-wide) 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. mosaicsmall The hill of Mount Zion, the highest point in Old Jerusalem, is dominated by the Church of the Dormition (left photo, below). 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. The Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu (right photo, below) 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. chapelsfirstcenturystepssmallgardengethsemanesmll 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 Jerusalem. We even shared Holy Communion in the Garden of the Empty Tomb. 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 and thrive inside the ancient city’s 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 displayed on tables, and more fresh produce than this country girl could ever imagine! It was truly a magical day, an unforgetable experience. oldjerusalem More highlights of my Holy Land trip came from experiences with water. Where there is water, I usually find a way in … literally! I
swamfloated in the Dead Sea (which was so cool and made my skin feel AMAZING!) and another day I ate Saint Peter’s fish (similar to tilapia) beside the Sea of Galilee (which is really a big lake and fresh water, not saltwater). After lunch, I snuck away from the group to dip my toes in the very chilly water. The large rocks provided perfect coverage for my secret mission. I was eventually discovered and joined the tour group on-board a cruising vessel. The skies were a perfect shade of blue, the water was calm, and the captain turned off the engines to play a soft melody of It Is Well With My Soul over the speakers. seaofgalileesmallseaofgalilee If you get 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. And no, Mister Camel did not spit or bite me. camelridesmall

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I hope you enjoyed this post and maybe you learned a few things too. I’d love to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land again sometime. 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. 2013
Thanks so much for sharing your adventure with us, Nicole!  I long to visit the Holy Land and see all the places I’ve read about since childhood.

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