My pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the Middle East began early Tuesday morning (June 12), Mom took me to O-Hare International Airport in Chicago and waited for me to finish with check-in before we said our goodbyes. I made my way through security with no problems (unlike the last trip I took, you may know if you read my blog about traveling to Australia last year) and only had to wait about an hour in the terminal before I was sitting on the plane ready for take-off.
The flight from Newark, NJ took off only a short time after our original scheduled departure, but seemed to arrive quicker than expected. I was surprised when I realized I only had one hour between when I landed and when I was to start boarding my flight to Tel Aviv. Seeing as though my new departure gate was literally on the complete opposite side of the terminal, and not wanting to be late, I kept up a brisk walking pace from the moment I stepped off the plane.
Because of my time crunch I decided against my better judgment, and grumbling stomach dismissing the idea of stopping at a restaurant for a real lunch, so a quick stop at the convenient store had to suffice. I knew I was eventually getting a meal on the plane so a large bottle of water, trail mix and some pistachios were all I needed.
As I reached the gate I found out we had to go through another security check and ended up waiting in line for about 45 minutes before finally making it through. Due to numerous delays our plane to Tel Aviv took off about an hour and a half later than the scheduled departure time; it took around 11 hours to get to Israel and except for the scary patch of turbulence we hit over the Atlantic Ocean, it was a nice flight.
I sat next to a very nice Israeli woman who was traveling back to visit family with her husband. I found out they had moved to New York at least 30 years ago and just last year moved to Florida; two of their kids were born in Israel, with a third born in the states. They travel back to Israel several times each year. During the flight she would talk to me every once in awhile, giving me some pointers for my trip and telling me not to worry about anything just because I was traveling alone. She also kept feeding me snacks encouraging me to take more; lets just say I had had enough food by the time I got off the plane. A long wait to get through passport check meant that by the time I did get through my luggage was already floating around on the luggage belt and had no delay there.
I couldn’t help but be nervous now, with everything in hand I was ready to go into the arrivals hall to meet my tour guides! Because I had seen pictures of them before I had no trouble spotting Steve and Janet Ray within a few minutes. We took care of introductions right away and went off in search of the other early arrivals. First we found Kevin, who had arrived at the airport at 2pm the previous day (yes, he spent the night in the airport). Next we found Fr. Brad LePage, Chelsea and Will, all of whom had just come from a pilgrimage in Rome. They too had arrived very early and had already been waiting for several hours in the airport as well. Now with about 2.5 more hours to kill before the large group arrived from New York we were able to just relax and get to know each other. Kevin, Will, Chelsea and myself are all very close in age and it was nice to know there were going to be other young adults on a trip mostly inhabited by wiser minds.
When the whole group had arrived we jumped on our tour bus and made our way to our first stop, Mt. Carmel and Elijah’s Cave. We first celebrated daily mass in the chapel with Fr. LePage; today was the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, and how appropriate that the reading for today was a reading from 1 Kings 18:20-39 (look it up and you will realize what a coincidence it is and if that isn’t an indication for how the pilgrimage will be, I don’t know what is). Following daily mass we were allowed about 20 minutes to look around and actually go into the cave of Elijah. The cave is at the foot of an altar inside the actual church, Stella Maris. Although another mass was being celebrated inside we were allowed to go into the cave of Elijah to pray for special intentions; it was a beautiful moment to be in the same place as this great prophet.
As we left Haifa to go to our hotel in Tiberias we drove past the Bahai Temple and Gardens as well as the shipping port. Haifa is the most industrial city in Israel. Galilee was about a 30-minute drive away and we pulled up to our hotel, Ron Beach Hotel, just in time for dinner. A large buffet with all kinds of salads, meats and dessert awaited us. Our hotel lies right on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and all the rooms face the water…what a beautiful view for us to wake up to each morning!
The rest of the evening was ours and mostly consisted of people going to bed right away. Some of us checked out the Sea of Galilee while others walked downtown on the boardwalk. It has been a long day for us all and we have an early morning tomorrow.