Cubicle Warrior Guide to Savannah, Georgia

Here’s the next chapter of my Notebook project. It’s campy, I know, but I’m trying to establish a habit of writing about more current events as they happen. Not to worry, more entertaining and useful meditative pieces on the way.

Until then, here’s my recap on Savannah.

We spent this past weekend in beautiful, history Savannah, Georgia. The occasion was Jen’s birthday weekend but I don’t know what took us so long to go. For years we have been hearing about what a great place this is – especially during St Patty’s day. Turns out it’s pretty awesome all year round.

Our time was short so we decided early on to put as much as possible into the trip. That meant contorting some of the logistics, making several lists, and checking them all twice. Wee went with the flow and had a great time on our Bourdain-esque eating drinking, nonstop partying tour of the place. We got some great advice from Howie (a friend of Frugal Travel Guy – my source for frequent flier info), Samantha Brown’s travel channel episode (Jen’s trip!), VisitSavannah.com and Yelp.

Logistics

After the Rio fiasco we splurged on a nice hotel. Lovingly restored Revolutionary war period beds-and-breakfasts abounded but we wanted a sure thing. A reservation in centrally located Hyatt did the trick. Nice place! Of course I later found that booking through their website instead of Orbitz would have helped me out considerably in my quest for free travel. We heard good things about Hilton DeSoto, the Westin on Hutchinson Island, and the Four Points Historic District.

Our drive was just under 4 hours from Charlotte – not bad on a Friday evening. Birthday girl got to choose the tunes but I was so looking forward to getting out of town it didn’t even bother me that much!

Rain was called for but the weather Gods appeased making the rain coats, jackets and sweaters we brought wholly unnecessary.

Video

Until I can post my iPhone photos, here’s a shot. I didn’t care for the song but it gives you a great visual of an incredible pretty city.

Cubicle Warrior Guide to Savannah

You know you’re going to a great city when every time you mention your trip people tell you another 8 places to go. As a result, we opted for Tapas-style food/drink crawl. Here are my favorites.

Food & Drink

Churchill’s – How can you go wrong with a pub named for the century’s most brilliant statesman? Great bar, great drinks great food. Service was a little slow but the diversity of ages on the outdoor, open air rooftop terrace made up for it. I spent my entire Shazam iPhone app allowance trying to identify good music I hadn’t heard before!

Moon River Brewing company – Bad service, great food. The waiter actually prevented us from ordering one of the appetizers stating that 95% of the people trying it hate it. Well, this being the first Saturday of May, they offered the obligatory Mint Julep’s for a $1 a piece. And yes, you get exactly what you pay for with a $1 drink. stick to their beer!

Old Pink House – Phenomenally tasty food for an upscale dinner. Next time I go, I’m coming hungry!

Leopold’s Ice cream – Really, damn good ice cream. Especially nice on a warm day when you’ve been exploring and are starting to sweat alcohol.

Tubby’s – Sure it is loud, busy, and has crappy food. It still serves drinks and overlooks the river and the stage from an elevated position. Great for watching clog dancers! (see below)

Chart House – Seriously. Good. Seafood. I don’t know what else to say. I loved this place.

Goosefeathers – Tasty breakfast. A sit-in experience flush with the warm and inviting smells from their bakery. Coffee leaves a little to be desired but the food more than makes up for it.

J Christopher’s – This was the best breakfast I think I’ve ever had. We had a little wait but the crab cake benedict absolutely made it worth it.

Irish Bar on Bay street – For some reason the name escapes me (.. wonder why!) I really enjoyed this place and the live music. Irish drinking songs are a top way to finish out a long day!

Stuff to do

I was happy just walking and eating around but having a few set activities really helped set the scene.

Savannah Dan’s walking tour – The guy is a huge ex-cop who knows history and delivers it with amusing anecdotes complete with southern manners. Best part of the trip was joking back and forth with him. If you want a sense of Savannah, this is the dude to go to.

Tybee Island – There was no way we could get that close to the mighty Atlantic and NOT visit it! Water was warm enough to swim… should have brought a bathing suit! Next time!

The best part

The best part of Savannah is that we didn’t even scratch the surface of things on our list. We easily have enough to return to and do for several more trips. That’s the mark of a great place.

Have you been to Savannah? What do you like to do?

Rhineland and Central Germany

Fall in Germany is beautiful. I was able to experience the center of this nation first hand with my then fiancee (now wife) and it was absolutely spectacular. In this next installment of my Notebook project I give an overview of the trip. The sections below have links to pages with greater detail about that section of the trip. If I left anything out, please let me know!

Why Germany

At the onset of every overseas trip I’ve taken people want to know why I am going there. Jen and I try to take 1 ‘big’ trip per year and we had not yet been to Germany. It seemed like a good pin to put in the Map Project! We both share a heritage with the area – I was especially excited to see the Hessen area. Last name research.

Finally, this was of course coordinated to schedule up with Oktoberfest. You see while my soon-to-be blushing bride and I would explore the romantic castles and vineyards of the Rhineland for a peaceful time together that wouldn’t be the end of the trip at all. For me, anyway. I was scheduled to meet my friends in Munich for Oktoberfest – but that’s a story for another post!

General Impressions

First off, we were very fortunate to be able to go. We were very cognizant of the current economic climate while there – US tourism we were told again and again – had fallen like a stone off a cliff this year. While it was a very welcome break from the monotony of cubicle land, we did appreciate having cubicles to come back to (and finance this little expedition.)

What we found were beautiful places, great people, and an interesting history.
The Rhineland is a gorgeous couple’s retreat. Still, it’s kind of an age-appropriate adventure….for retirees that is! This is the vacation we should have taken when we are 65, retired, and in the relaxing, wine sipping years of our lives. But….. this is what you get when you “Rick Steve’s it.”

Still, we had a great time adventuring by train, stepping back a millennia (or more) in time and not eating vegetables. There are NO vegetables in Germany!

Getting there

We were able to take flight from Charlotte direct to Frankfurt. My flight was free thanks to the accumulation of tons of frequent flier miles on USAir. I would later find out that I could have redeemed all those miles for 2 direct flights but, alas, live and learn!

We arrived and Jen was getting over a cold and I was just getting sick. I didn’t sleep at all on the flight and managed to get through customs bleary-eyed and feverish. Luckily Jen was there to navigate us through the airport and buy the train tickets that would be our transport for the entire week. I remember feeling so sick and not being able to sleep for the continuous transfer of trains. Still, Germany gets superb marks for their national transportation system – cheap though, it is not!

Rothenberg ob der Tauber

Our first stop in Germany was this hard-to-get to medieval walled city. Rothenberg is picturesque German town — yellow houses with dark brown trim abound. The best way to describe this place is living history. The city sits on a raised cliff high above the banks of a river from which the town gets it’s name and grapes for wine. That defensive position and arable land have been desirable to nearly everyone who has come by for thousands of years. You can see this as the former site of Romans, Holy Roman Empire, Catholics vs Protestant wars, and more up. It even played an interesting role in WWII.

Well-preserved from it’s heyday as a regional economic power, once the trade stopped (a combination of church politics, changing of trade routes, and technology) Rothenberg found itself too poor to modernize, so they rebuilt and fixed everything they had. In fact, they did that for hundreds of years perfectly preserving the medieval city for 19th century English aristocrats to find. Entertainingly, it was that Elizabethan tourism that spared the town in WWII from Allied bombing when the commander recognized the town as a cultural center.

And still preserved those medieval houses are. Our hotel, while updated with electricity, internet, plumbing, etc must have been centuries old. As were most of the buildings in the neighborhood. The entire city is a post card and we took many, many, many photos. You know you’re in trouble when you cannot decide on which souvenirs to bring home (and you’re only one day into a 2 week plus trip!)

The most identifying features of Rothenberg are the towers, the defensive wall that encircles the town, and the squares provided. We climbed towers, took tours, ate at authentic restaurants open for longer than the US has been a country. Our favorite part was the acerbic Night watchman tour- given at night with a heavy dose of sarcasm in equal measure with education making the medieval city come to life. We laughed our collective asses off at this guy’s humor. If you’re ever in Rothenberg, check him out!

You can see my first impressions here on this post that I wrote while there. It’s a little darker as I was a lot sicker during the writing of it!

After 2 brief days we were back on the trains again.

Heidelberg

Some guidebooks will tell you that Heidelberg is overrun by American students, military, and tourists and, despite it’s picturesque allure, you’d be better off devoting your time elsewhere.

I can see a little truth in that but…

Other guide books will tell you that Heidelberg is called “everybody’s favorite town” in Germany. Situated on the Neckar River, tourist books will tell you that it “can be explored in a day if you move fast enough. Check into a hotel in the Altstadt (Old Town) for atmosphere and wander its cobblestone streets at your leisure.”

OK, we did just that. And we had a phenomenal time! From drinking squares to climbing to cliff-top castles overlooking hazy rivers I am ridiculously happy that we didn’t skip this town.

Bacharach & Rudesheimr

Our next stop on our train tour of middle Germany was Bacharach. This was to be our base on the Rhine for the next few days – the remainder of Jen’s section of the trip. Barely bigger than the train station it held, per Rick Steve’s notes it was a convenient jumping off point to the rest of our Rhineland adventures.

One of those adventures was a journey only one or two stops away over to Rudesheim to check out that town. Another picturesque medieval village built into a hill and famous for their wine and vineyards. Surprisingly fun!

The Rhine Adventure Cruise

The chief reason for basing ourselves in Bacharach was to avail ourselves of the K-D line – a ferry that would bring us down the Rhine. Anywhere I go I try to get some time in or on the water and cruising this historical and crucial waterway offered not only a relaxing way to travel but provided a ton of insight into an area I had only read about previously. Family theories abound about how we immigrated from Germany to the states. Any way you cut it, it’s likely I wasn’t the first Hessing to make this trip North.

We hopped on and off again visiting castles, eating, drinking, and amusing ourselves for miles. We explored towns like St. Goar and Boppard. We passed the famous Lorely. We took pictures of castles that I could have previously only imagined as part of fairy tales. After ending in Koblenz, we took explored a little more and took the train back to Bacharach.

Trier

Trier lays about as far west as a town can lay in Germany before you start calling it France. We had a decision to make – spend a 2-3 hours travelling by train to a German city on the edge of France positively reviewed by Rick Steve’s or go to a ruined castle that he absolutely raved about and demanded that we see.

Tough decision. By this time we had enough of Tricky Ricky and his guidebook for senior citizens. The hopping on aond off into charming and quaint riverside villages was nice – especially the wine – but it was time for a little more adventure. Time to cast our flag a little further afield. I’m glad we did. We had a great time and as a bonus stopped in for a whirlwind tour of a surprise city on the return. And we can always visit the super-duper-absolutely-must-see-or-your-trip-is-a-waste castle the next time we’re in the Rhineland!

Our week-long adventure through central Germany and the Rhineland ended the next day as we awoke early and caught a train to the Frankfurt airport. After seeing Jen checked in and escorted through customs I was on my way to Bavaria and Munich and Oktoberfest for the Bachelor party to end all Bachelor parties! But that’s a story for another time!

Notes from the Wedding

The wedding was absolutely spectacular. Everything we could have hoped for and more. After all, how often is it that you get to transform a 5 star resort into a freshman dorm reunion? The wedding itself has already been rehashed to no end and everyone who we would share photos with should have already got them via Facebook. (If not, let me know.) I don’t know that I’m entirely comfortable posting those pics here on this space but I’ll post a few. Since people have been wondering how it went, here’s a recap.

Grown Up Spring Break

We left before sunrise Sunday after a blizzard paralyzed Charlotte and much of the rest of the East Coast Friday night and Saturday morning. The schedule was intentionally set so we could spend as much time with our friends and family as possible. (Don’t you hate those weddings where you only see the bride and groom for 5 minutes in a welcoming line?) Jen and I arrived nearly week before the ceremony in order to try to spend as much time partying and adventuring with our friends as possible. It really worked out! It was like grown up spring break!

The week started out rainy but still found a lot to do – namely a side trip to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen!

Reality of Wedding Planning

I know I’ve written before that sometimes you don’t get exactly what you expect in an all-inclusive resort. That is certainly true at Aventura. You get different answers on different days from different people. While the overall experience is excellent its the little perks, extras, and bonuses that you were counting on that are subject to interpretation. Your mileage may vary.

The wedding planning was entirely different because…

  • Very little to worry about – all inclusive really came through.
  • Gorgeous resort – we were happy we convinced 45 guests to come.
  • Room: huge bed, jacuzzi in the room, bottle of v!no, full bar and stocked fridge – for everyone, not just the wedding couple!
  • Affordable – we received a ton of credits due to how many nights our collective group booked. That went towards other wedding items.
  • Tons of activities.
    Couples played tennis, group water volleyball, water aerobics, video games, or just lounged and drank. There were side trips to Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, ceynotes, Tulum, and more. Some people even got to go ziplining in the jungle! Others made use of the work out facilities and / or the spas. Snorkeling, ping pong, and card games.
  • Wedding prep – you get to sample every dessert!
  • Awesome wedding coordinator!! The whole process was so easy and affordable! Highly recommend it!!

Random Entertaining Events

Every wedding has its stories, and these are only a part but they paint the picture:

Jen and I only knew what day it was by who is there. (aka – Leo & Amber are here so it must be Tuesday!)

Power failure! We lost power to the resort (and a large part of Mexico, it seems) the day before the wedding. Turns out the state had planned this outage well in advance. Good thing the generators turned on! Water purifiers made the cut on ‘essential systems’ but blenders did not. Only ‘on the rocks’ margaritas for 24 hours! Glad our wedding wasn’t that day!

Jen’s parents sat through the timeshare info session. We wanted no part of losing the pool time but they were able to trade in their timeshares for 4 X’s the time, less costs, and other benefits. Go parents-in-laws!

Karaoke! So many disparate parts of the group sang solo and some of the girls created a kick line while a gentleman sang “New York, NY.”

Rain on Friday? Not a problem! What would a return to Spring Break be without drinking card games. With free beer. In a lobby of a 5 star resort. With an audience.

Hitting the club on Friday night after the rehearsal dinner by way of party bus. Yes, we took a free intra hotel diesel bus to shuttle ourselves 1/12th of a mile. But it was great. When we ascended the stairs to the 2nd floor to find the club, we encountered a donkey. One girl screamed. Others took pictures in full bandito gear. Thus was born the legend of Senor Mustachio!

The Wedding Day

Of course we were here for a reason. Beyond the above mentioned parties, that is.

We started our wedding morning with a Spa treatment. That was good. I think I’m normally pretty calm but very early that morning I snapped awake. Returning to sleep was impossible. So was the thought of eating anything. A full spa complete with free hour massage goes a long way in soothing wedding nerves.

After that it was back to hard work of drinking, volleyball, and toying with the emotions of the staff:

Staff: “Sirs, would you like to come join us in the other pool for water aerobics?”
Ted: ‘What time does that start?” (I knew the time it started and the time it was now.)
Staff: “At 1pm.” (It was already 1:15pm)
Ted: “No can do. I have to be at a wedding at 1.”
Staff: “Sir, that is not possible! You’ll be late!!”
Ted: “Not at all. They can’t possibly start without me. I’m the groom.”
Staff: “Sir! You must go!!”
Ted: “You’re right. I am thirsty! Who else wants to swim up to the bar?”

Ceremony:

The ceremony started with the entire entourage at a private gazebo on the northern most part of the property. Guests were seated and nuclear family relatives walked down the aisle before Jen arrived. I stood at the altar waiting while a 7 man Mariachi band played. We had elected to have a few slight alterations to a ceremony that fit our style. The first was a family-orientation by the processional and we asked our siblings and their significant others to stand by us at the altar eschewing the normal best man / maid of honor, bridesmaids and groomsmen things.

“And the Horse You Rode in On”

A horse drawn carriage arrived dropping Jen off and her father off. He walked her to me and gave her away. The civil ceremony in lieu of a religious one fit our personalities (and my beliefs) and we stood facing our guests. I never understood why you wouldn’t face your guests.

The mariachis played, we were married, and fireworks shot off in the background. How many wedding do you know that had fireworks? Exactly. The entire party left and formed a circle that we were introduced to complete with champagne toasts and, at the insistence of our mariachi friends, my impression of a Mexican hat dance. (In the video I look like a wounded chicken.)

After-Pre–Party
Before we took the traditional wedding photos we tried to take photos with everyone. I can’t imagine why you would invite people to a wedding and then not be in pictures with them. It’s a group celebration, right? Well, put the group in the photos! And we did. Once that was over everyone went over to our post ceremony / pre-reception cocktail hour (yeah, we like to party!) while Jen and I took a few more photos just the two of us alone by a Mexican sunset by the cerulean seas of the Caribbean.

Golf carts took us from the cocktail party to the reception. Did I say wedding reception? It was actually a roast. Of me. Luckily the DJs surprised me with a gift – a CD burned with everyone’s best tidings, well-wishes, and orchestrated Ted-slams. I’ll treasure it forever.

The End

The next day we had a group breakfast but people had already started going home and the realization that we would soon return to a life filled not with volleyball, poolside drinks, and snorkeling. The Snowpocalyspe in the US made this something to take seriously. We filled our day with lounging, thanking those who had come and preparing to watch the Superbowl sans commercials on a 2 story projection screen in the lobby. Note: all inclusive drinks and 5 star food is the way all football affairs should be organized.

We killed the night by taking our remaining friends, the leftovers of the wedding cake, and complementary bottles of champagne and wine to our favorite lobby and reminisced. We would travel to Rio the next day for a honeymoon. But that’s a story for another time. This was one fantastic wedding. Thanks to all whom made it possible!

A Funny Thing Happened to me on the Way to Dinner

Dinner in the Christian Quarter

Following my trip through the Western Wall, my failed attempt to gain access to the Al Aqsa mosque, a brief wandering through a cemetary from Lion’s Gate to the Golden Gate, bartering with Persian carpet dealers, and visiting the 14 Stations of the Cross and summiting Christ the Redeemer Church, (that wasn’t a run on sentence, was it 😉 ?) it was time to eat. Jerusalem had one more curveball in store for me.

Return to the Souk

The only time I get lonely overseas is when it’s time to eat. I’ve spent enough time eating alone in my life and I really don’t enjoy it. Eating by yourself overseas makes you realize that despite all the amazing things that you are seeing, you’re missing out on sharing those experiences with anyone else. With that in mind, I decided to take my meal at the busiest place I could find – the market souk near Christ the Redeemer church.

Clothing Inspection

I pause in my tale to describe my attire for the evening. Remember, I have been up running through the dusty streets of Old Jersualem from exactly sun-up to dinner which was probably 12 hours. I have climbed through churches, monastaries, into and out of caves, pressed flesh with religious elders, and struggled through masses of humanity in a desert setting. In other words, I smell My cargo khakis, olive shirt, and brown boots are covered in dust, sweat, and grime. I had been wearing a hat both to protect my shaved head from the Middle Eastern sun as well as to obey the religious sensibilities of each place I visited; some required head cover, others prohibit.

The Restaurant

I chose a restaurant for the view. 3 stories up from the market place I was able to find a seat. However, no one would serve me. After about 30 minutes of watching everyone eat, I turned to leave. Enough of this I thought.

Leaving down the stairs I passed the manage who asked how my meal was. When I expalined that there was no meal because no one would serve me, he disappeared into the kitchen and with a flurry of words in a language I could not identify (Armenian?) he discovered that they wouldn’t serve me because they thought I was an American service man.

Not caring to eat at any place that wouldn’t serve our military I decided to leave. I told the manager that I understood their objections and would leave. Again the man stopped me. He further explained that it wasn’t that they wouldn’t serve me, it was that they were too scared to serve me. He asked ‘You are a SEAL, no?’

That really took me back. I didn’t expect that. Compared to the waiters I was huge. Most Americans really do appear giant and fat compared to the people I’ve encountered overseas. At 195lbs, I am no exception. But a SEAL? No. I lauged it off and explained that American SEALs were much, much bigger, stronger and scarier than I could ever be. That thought both seemed to relieve and terrify them. I was seated and enjoyed a good meal and a tasty beer looking out over the city.

Getting to the Dig

It was damn early when I awoke alone in my hostel. The sun had not yet rose but my alarm roused me at the pre-set time; 4:30 am. “Sonofabitch,” I thought as I climbed out of my bunk to shut it off. Nothing registers with me in that early in the morning. It took me a moment to realize where I was and what the alarm meant.

The night before I had returned from an amazing time, my first day in the Middle East, to find a note waiting for me at the hostel. I’ve written about exploring Jerusalem here, here, and here, so if you are interested in back story, just check out those pages. The note was from my pre-arranged contact, a fellow Dig volunteer whom had been here a few weeks longer than I. It was short and to the point. ‘Meet in lobby @ 5:30am. Head to the site.’ And that’s why I was awake at that ungodly hour. To give myself enough time to wash the sleep from my eyes, get dressed and make a small pack for the day.

While the dining hours were listed as 5 am, I knew the set up would be earlier. Perhaps one bleary-eyed American wouldn’t be noticed. So I went to the mess hall early. I had to wake up somehow and sitting alone in my dorm was not the way to do it.. As luck would have it, the coffee (or what passed as coffee) was already brewing and no one was there to object to my taking a table.

By 5:30 I was in the lobby trying to look more awake than I felt and I met the other volunteer. He was in his late 50s and had recently retired from a civil service job and was clearly used to more authority than he had been given on this dig. He explained the basics to me as we returned to the mess hall to pick up supplies that would be our lunch. For the record, lunch was a bizarre affair of potluck. I’m not certain what kind of Rube Goldberg machine-turned-comestible we were expected to build with the materials but at least there were always materials.

My partner walked me over to the site. It was on the south wall of Jerusalem by what is known as the Dung Gate. By those walls were various trenches and partial excavations and over a millennia of debris. This is what I can tell you of the site dubbed Mount Zion:

(Here is a timeline of the occupation of Jerusalem for those whom are interested)

Mt Zion (the dig site) was located west of and outside the original City of David (more on the city of David later). Through the years of Roman annexation (foot note) it was home to the religious upper class. By the time of Jesus such figures as the House of Caiaphas are known to have made their home here. Of particular interest to the Biblical Archeological study (whom was partially sponsoring at least parts of the dig) the places we were excavating may have been the homes of the Pharisees whom judged and tried Jesus before delivering him to Pontius Pilate for insinuated crimes of treason.

After Jesus’ passing the landscape changed again, especially with the Jewish revolt which ultimately led to Rome bringing the hammer down and demolishing every part of Jerusalem “let no stone stand upon another.” From the perspective of our dig, that filled the area with tons of Roman-era debris and a certain amount of destruction.

As you can tell by that short narrative, war and destruction seems to be the only constant of that land. Conquering forces make excavation difficult in the manner that everything you find is either mostly or completely trashed. The good part is that we have consistent timelines and if you find certain markers (Roman roofing, or Turkish tiles), you know the context of anything you find near it.

The dig day starts by the volunteers (students, zealots and retirees for the most part) and the paid laborers (Palestinians, all) begin setting up for the day. Across the road that runs by the site is the foreman’s house. It’s the one with the donkey making noise all day. From there we unload spades and shovels, trowels, buckets, and surveying equipment. Tons of material. The archaeologists would show up right after that effort was finished.

Assignments would be made for digging and in what location. Some with other skills (like surveying – thanks, Dad!) would be assigned to various other projects. Some women whom I am certain are destined for saint hood brewed tea and coffee. That’s when we would get to work.

I was paired with one Dr Egon Lass. He had a reputation for being austere, imperious, and for not suffering fools gladly if at all. I had been warned about working with him both on the way over and by other volunteers. Of course I was assigned to him. The rumors were true. He was exacting but he had decades of experience. He held other people to a high standard but himself to an impossible one. He is also brilliant. I liked it so much that I volunteered to work with him the rest of the week.

And work was hard, painstaking, and very, very hot.

A Brief History of Israel

You can’t really appreciate the archeology without the history. Through archaeology, good, unbiased archaeology, that is we can discern a lot about this area and the timeframes included. However, a large portion of what makes this portion of the world so interesting – the passionate beliefs of 3 major world religions – also lead to contrary claims. I will limit this discussion to what is proven through shrewd science. If you disagree on the basis of religious principle, that’s great. You are welcomed to your opinion. These pages are not for you. If I’ve made a mistake with my accounting of the science here, please let me know in the comments and be prepared to include your sources. I can send you mine.

Also, this isn’t a complete history, just what is germane to the Dig history.

Egypt to Abraham and back again.

Over the years Jerusalem has taken many shapes. Although people settled (as best we can tell around 10,000 BC) the first to rule the area were the Egyptian Pharaohs. Around 1800 BC Abraham took his nomadic tribe from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and defeated the locals in what amounts to a war over water property. Eventually his descendents sought refuge in Egypt due to massive climatic change that led to a drought through out all of the area. In or around 1250 BC Moses led the people on back (via a circuitous route). They battled Philistines and Canaanites and eventually were united under Saul. Saul was defeated at Mt Gilboa by the Philistines and Israel was divided in two; the north being Israel and the south being Judah. David conquered Jerusalem (what was known as Salem) and ran his nation from that seat of power.

David to Sargon to Babylonians and a return

David established Jerusalem (then called Zion) and his son and successor Solomon created the first Temple there (965-928 BC). After Solomon’s rule ended, the people entered into a cycle of subjugation. Around 722-205 BZC, Sargon of Assyria captured Israel (remember, the northern part of Saul’s empire) and forced Judah (David’s portion) to pay tribute. That included Zion/Jerusalem. In 586 BC the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and exiled the people to what is today called Iraq. Around 50 years afterwards the Babylonians themselves would be conquered by King Cyrus of Persia and the Jews returned to the lands of Israel, Judah, and the city we know as Jerusalem.

Greeks to Hasmoneans to Romans

Greeks maintained hold of the Holy Land from the 4th century BC via Alexander the Great (whom took the land from the Persians) and Ptolemy (Alex’s general took over the area when he died in 323 BC). Around 200 BC, the Seleucids (another off shoot of Alexander) took control. In particular, in Jerusalem, they displaced the Jewish priests from the Temple. That came to a head in 167 BC when Judah Maccabee rose up to conquer an area just about the size of David’s. This led to the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty – something which the Roman Empire found to be a very effective buffer between their grain fields in Egypt and the Parthian (Persian) Empire.

Romans

Rome liked having the Hasmoneans as a client state but they fought amongst themselves too much. Rome grew tired of this and intervened in 63 BC. They would then either rule via proxy (like Hasmonean marry-in King Herod) or through a Procurator like Pontius Pilate. This ultimately led to more war and in 66AD Rome crushed what is known as the First Jewish Revolt and sacked the temple in 70 AD thus ending what is referred to as the Second Temple Period. This wouldn’t be the end of Rome’s influence in Jerusalem for they expelled the Jews and renamed the city to Aelia Capitolina after putting down the 2nd Jewish Rebellion under Emperor Hadrian.

Christians & Muslims

Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire in 313AD and his mother Helena went around consecrating sites associated with Jesus’ life, several in Jerusalem. 638 Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem bringing Islam to the city but Christian pilgrimages were allowed until 1071 when the Seljuk Turks invaded prompting the Pope to call for the crusades. In 1099 Crusading Christians would take the city but the crusades would continue for 200 more years. In 1187 Saladin the Saracen (of Kurdish origin) would take the city.

Ottomans, British, UN, and Modern Israel

1516 would see Palestine fall to the hands of the Ottomans for some 400 years until the British would take it at the conclusion of World War 1. They would turn it over to the UN which would ultimately lead to the 2 month Arab-Israeli war.

St Patty’s Day In Jerusalem

I joined the Mt Zion Dig after catching Dr Tabor’s lecture at UNCC promoting the Jesus Cave and his book The Jesus code. At the end of his speech he announced that he and archaeologist Dr Shimon Gibson  would be conducting a dig in Jerusalem and if you wanted to, you could volunteer. That was in November 2007. I had my paperwork submitted a week later. The dig would be that March.

I had never been to Israel or anywhere in the Middle East before. While I love history, I didn’t know much about the region outside the headlines. And hat was usually about violence. Other than watching Indiana Jones (and I don’t think it counts) I had no formal archaeological training. Still, I had to go. You just have t say ‘yes’ when these once in a lifetime experiences come your way.

In my very brief experience, archeology is a lot like driving long distance. The vast majority of the tasks you are expected to perform are so perfunctory that you set yourself to autopilot. Of course, if you are too zoned-out, you miss the great details that make the trip worthwhile. And sometimes missing those details can lead to disaster.

The question most people ask is ‘Was it Dangerous? As far as I know, Nothing very tragic occurred to our little group while I was a member. The question most people ask me is “Did you find anything?” The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ we found tons (literally) of material. Ceramic chips of ewers, wine jugs, and ritualistic water carriers. Bones of chickens and pics and horses. Mosaic pieces used in flooring and wall design as well as building material like clay gutters and steam vents. We found these shards by the thousands if not the hundred of thousands. The items, at first novel, soon became the debris of millennia. It was ‘just another mosaic piece’ which we would bag and label with the strata we were digging in for future analysis.

Every so often, someone would find something very interesting. A fine bone needle was discovered from Roman times. That was the proverbial needle in a haystack. How that volunteer discovered it is beyond my comprehension. We found a few small pieces of iron. Significant if you understand the context of how rare metal at all was at the time.

Of course, the mother lode was when anyone would find a coin. I’d love to tell you what kind of coins they were. But the fact is that they really are just a lump of metal oxidized to the point of green-blue brittleness. I never found any coins but then again, I wasn’t digging in the places where one might find coins. The closest I came was a relatively large piece of round blue-greenness with a hole in the middle. Dr Egon Lass expertly diagnosed it as a grommet, something one would tie a rope through and went about his day. I am not sure if there was a record, but I am certain to be the title holder in the number of chicken bones found.

Dr Lass continued my history lessons as we progressed through the days and the week. This kind of glaze found on this kind of ceramic indicated the Turkish presence. This kind of mosaic piece indicates the Roman period. This kind of color indicated Muslim influence. Each layer of earth and rubble we sifted through was an opportunity for a lesson

In addition to explaining the historical era of the strata we uncovered, he told me of a great many other stories about his life. At a very young age he escaped Nazi Germany for the states with his mother. He got an education through the Navy and studied to be an anthropologist. Somehow he wound up in the Middle East and doing archaeology. He lived with the Bedouins for a time and he told me many stories of them. The Bedouin people and their nomadic way of life have all but disappeared and through basic on-line research I have found no one else to have claimed to live with them. Dr Lass wrote about his experiences with the clans. About blood fueds and honor debts. About basic religious thought and customs bourne of a different age. About skills the Bedoin cultivated that seem superhuman those of use raised in suburban houses. On my last day he presented me with a chapter of his book, simply bound. It was the only remnant he had of it as the man seems to live sparsley. It is a phenomenal read and has left me searching for the original. (If anyone knows of where to find a copy of Egon Lass’s Seasons of Tulum, let me know!) That was a highlight of my trip.

Most days we would finish digging around 3. By the time we put everything away and were debriefed, it was 4. We trekked home and I would try to wash the eons of dirt off of me. I was alway exhausted in that kind of way a man unaccustomed to day-long physical labor would be. My mind would not let me sleep. ‘When’s the next time you’re going to be here?’ I would ask myself. That would usually be enough to send me back out into the Old City of Jerusalem for more adventuring.

I hit every place in the guidebooks. I explored every shop, every church, every museum. I ate in as many different places as I could afford and spoke to as many people as I could. (Sometimes in pantomime, sometimes in English, once, memorably in my pitiful broken Spanish.) My guide books became a checklist. If I couldn’t see a place one day, I’d try to get to it the next. Despite the early mornings and physical labor I kept very busy exploring.

Most days went like that. Some exceptions stand out:

St Patty’s Day 2008

St Patty’s Day began like any other. The dig started at 5:30 am, we broke for lunch at noon, and we would finish by 4 O’clock. I worked with WSDF reducing a great mound and all was normal. There was a brief period when we thought we heard gunfire in the distance – perhaps Kidron valley. Several workers stopped and gathered together in a low area. DSFGs didn’t move and I figured that he had seen everything one could see in the Middle East so I continued working with him. We ended up being fine.

Since the day was St. Patty’s I decided to test my theorey that EVERY city in the world has at least on Irish bar. Even here in the center of the Holy Land, there had to be an Irish Bar. It turns out there are several.

I had located one bar in the newer side of Jerusalem earlier in the week and was mightily unimpressed. All the locals were clickish and not very welcoming. I didn’t want to repeat my experience so I had made arrangements with two of my fellow volunteers to grab a beer that night. They wanted a long nap before heading out again and I just couldn’t justify waiting around in my dormitory for them to be ready so out I went. And sure enough there was an Irish bar. And yes, it was clickish but at least it was decorated for the occasion. Still, it just didn’t seem right. There was blasting loud music from a stero on the site and a muted TV showing very odd men in costumes doing what I could only assume was some kind of opera or play… with dancing.

That was too weird so off I went and before long I found another Irish bar. But this one was following the same model:  muted TV, and disassociated stereo, and the same sort of odd half-naked, spandex-wearing men sort of half dancing. Again the bar was not very welcoming and no one but me seemed to think that the TV was anything out of the ordinary so again I left.

By now it was time to meet up with my compatriots and the prearranged bar. We selected the location on the advice of a grad student whom had been here for 3-4 weeks. He was spot on. There seemed to be a bunch of NGO types here and the waitstaff friendly. That and the fact that I had people to talk with now made me feel better. I tried to describe the other places I had been and got blank stares. Eventually one of the guys pointed at the TV over my shoulder. “Did they look like that?” he asked? Sure enough this third bar had the same kind of thing. While I tried to figure it out he started laughing. “That’s Riverdance! They think St Patty’s Day is all about Riverdance!”

City of David

We had one field trip after a day of digging. One of the official team members, a PHD candidate from an Israeli university, led our group away from our dig site on the outer wall to the south east corner of the Old City. From there we walked through a decidedly Palestinian section of town through what was the first settled part of Jerusalem.

The buildings looked awful. I remembering wondering if these had been bombed in the war for Jerusalem or if it was just the manifestation of poverty. You could see that building materials had been scavanged from anything available. And that included burial structures in the hills literally thousands of years old. As awful as the living conditions looked, we intrepid explorers must have appeared worse. We had just conlcuded a days hard labor in the Middle Eastern sun. Each of us had spent the day crawling around, shoveling, and plowing through dirt and debris. We were covered in the earth and dust of millenia.

In what was my most surreal experience in all of the time I spend in Palestine and Israel, Mareike, our German dig expeditor went into a shop and came out producing icicles for all of us. We walked down the hill towards the nexus of the Kidron and JKHJKH valleys like ducks in a row eating cherry and lemon ices. Amazing.

 We came to the stream. Jews come here each Jewish New Year and empty their pockets. Money, lint, whatever is in their pockets goes straight into this stream. The ritual is supposed to be some kind of unburdening. What the reality amounts to is a tremendous pile of trash left in the ghetto by people who the area residents see as foreign occupiers. And we stood there, eating ices while some took pictures. Absolutely unreal.

Trier & Cochem

Our last day in the Rhineland brought choices. Would we stay on the Rick Steve’s path of retirement-level excitement exploring yet another 4 star castle sure to be packed full of tourists? Or would we deviate and head far west to a town I had read about in archeology papers. Despite an extra hour of train rides each way plus transfer overhead, we opted for the latter and made our way to Trier with an unexpected stop in Cochem on the way home.

Trier

Trier is about as far West as on can go in Germany before hitting France.. or rather, Luxembourg. Man, I really wanted to extend the train trip just a little while longer to see if I could have collected another passport stamp! The purpose wasn’t to retire that document early but to see the oldest city in Germany founded by an Assyrian of all people around 2000 BC. With Trier having a massive Roman presence (starting around 16 BC) as well as being holding the only Bishop north of the Alps. You can read more depth about that history later. Let me tell you what we did.

Disembarking from the train station we followed Theodor Hess street (I know, so closely named!) to Porta Nigra – an enormous Roman edifice acting as a gate to the city. After taking a few beautiful pictures despite approaching rain clouds we continued into the main square. There’s a great story about Protestant vs Catholic “my church is better than your church” shenanigans here and each tried to out do the other. Neat reading. For us it meant great historical scavenger hunting as we identified this and that while doing the typical people watching that is expected in any European square.

We also visited the Cathedral of Trier, the Palace (or the outside grounds at least, and the long throne room of Emperor Constantine known as the Bascillica Constatine which was more historically impressive than the other two if not far less visually so.

For reasons unknown – whimsy, reading INcomprehension, or momentary insanity, we decided to travel to the riverside. I believe we thought we’d find some kind of Roman bridge there. Not so. After a 40 minute walk through what was a very lively small city we came to….nothing! Just traffic and a unremarkable river (the end of which we had seen in Koblenz.) Disappointed we made the long, winding walk back.

Before leaving this neat little city we of course had to eat. The remarkable part of this was that we didn’t eat German food. We were both pretty burnt out on schnitzel and sausage and the Turkish pitas we found tasted wonderful! Even the little bit of veggies on the sandwiches seemed extravagant compared to the lack in the cuisine of the previous week.

Cochem

We had expected to spend a lot more time in Trier so when we saw Cochem coming up on our train ride home we figured – why not stop in?! Here’s a pic on wikipedia. It was late in the day so a whirlwind tour it was. We plowed through tourist stalls, blended into crowds, did some souvenir shopping and ran up and down the winding, hillside medieval roads. While it was too late and too dark to visit the castle of Cochem, there was of course time to sit in the square, grab a few beers, and simply enjoy the moment.

We took the last train out that would allow us to connect in Koblenz for the last ride to our hotel Bacharach. We would be rising early the next day to catch trains to the airport for Jen and to Munich for myself. What a trip!

Bacharach & Rudesheim

Bacharach is a town that went to sleep after the Romans left it. And it never woke up. It’s small and exists solely, it seems, to wrap itself warmly around a train station like a shawl. And to provide travellers a nice cozy spot to stay while daytripping the rest of the Rhine. It has other grandmotherly, qualities, too. One even involving a real, live grandmother and the case of the stolen strudel.

We rolled in to Bacharach on Rick Steve’s recommendations after leaving Heidelberg. Much of the day was spent waiting for, riding in, or changing trains. By the time we got to the town, we were ready to do some exploring. After quickly finding our hotel and checking in to the converted attic (seriously, we have pictures) we did a quick loop around the town and realized that our best hope was to check another nearby town on the Rhine so back we headed to Rudesheim.

Rudesheim

Visitn Rudesheim, being on the far side of the Rhine, meant that we had to take a quick ferry to reach it. No problems there. We wandered Rudesheim’s streets and verified the tour book’s lament that it was indeed over run with tourists. And that is for good reason, the place is replete with bars and offering wine tastings. Both the full-bodied varieties you would expect from the region if you are such a connosier (which I am not) and the offering of the spring wine – something tasting roughly like pear juice, which I loved. A half dozen or so of such tastings and we knew it was time to find lunch.

Lunch was great. Much better fare than we had been used to and we took advantage of the weather to take a steep cable car ride to the top of a hill featuring none other than Emperor William Kaiser sitting on a throne looking forbodingly towards the West. The car ride was great, bringing us slowly and determinely over grape fields originally tilled by Roman hands. Jen didn’t like the heights or the bumps in the cabling. I laughed then but later in the trip fate would get me back.

We spent the rest of the time adventuring up and down Rudesheim’s cobbled streets negotiating the tight quarters with locals in cars and tourists on ridiculously over-decorated trams. A ferry ride and connecting train brought us back to Bacharach.

Bacharach

Like I mentioned before, the town is exceedingly grandmotherly. We tried a few restaurants but came back to one run by a real grandmother. Nice, honest food with a home made feel and of course, the best apple strudel that side of the Rhine. We got to know the owner pretty well after our repeated visits and she told us of life running the shop, the collapse of American tourism due to the economy, and what that meant for the riverside hamlets we were staying in. The most interesting story was about a young German lad she befriended and offered an internship to only to have him steal the secret famliy recipe for her prize-winning strudel! Luckily for her, she said it wasn’t enough to know the ingredients and amounts to add, you had to know the reasons to add them. And for that the thief’s strudel would always be second class. Interesting lesson.

The Rhine Adventure Cruise

Early our first morning we headed over to the KD boat line launch and purchased hop-on-hop-off tickets that would allow us to visit side towns as we wanted to. We would later find that our incredibly expensive
week-long German rail passes would have been accepted but there are no refunds in Germany. We boarded the boat with many other tourists already aboard from further up-river. The conductor played tourism tapes cued to mile markers on the river. The recordings were often difficult to hear as tour guides would preach on incessantly and indiscriminately over languages not on their own. Despite very much enjoying the ability to float down such a famous river, the other tourists made want to jump ship.

It wasn’t all bad. Reading about how so many Barons, Dukes, and minor nobles set themselves up in mini competing fiefdoms all along the river in order to best extort floating merchants for ‘tolls’ brought history to life. We learned about folklore and imagined tales not dissimilar from the Grimm tales being played out in all of the colorful multitude of riverside castles. It was no wonder the merchant class was the biggest supporters of rule under a single monarch in Germany – they were going broke trying to market goods along the time’s most major thoroughfare!

St. Goar Castle

Shortly after passing the famous Lorelei the tourists became too much and we disembarked for St. Goar. The main attraction here is the Burg Rhiensefeld castle which we thoroughly explored. At one point we bought a candle and matches and descended into tunnels dug centuries ago. As a defensive structure the tunnels were designed as a sort of honeypot for invaders. Attackers would enter the tunnels believing themselves stealthful. A notification systems would alert the castle owners when to light the match blowing the sequestered invaders to whatever God loved them best.

Still, the most memorable part of St Goar was the walk up to the castle – I took the long way and sweated for 45 minutes. And the run down to make our boat. I think we hit a new land speed record to make the boat.

Boppard and Other Stops

I can’t remember now but we got off the boat in Boppard for some reason. Whether that was general annoyance of the tourist-packed boats or disinterest in the cuisine being served we did. Sadly, Boppard was very small and they didn’t really like us at all. That was just as well, the citizens looked like they were just taking down stalls from a wine festival the previous week and there was nothing going on that day. We found a deli and had a good standing meal. Since we had budgeted more time to explore this disappointment of a town and a prepaid unlimited use rail pass, we took the train back upstream to catch the next boat rather than just wait around.

End of the River and Koblenz

Once back on the boat we sat back and watched as more storybook castles passed us as we floated by. The Rhine still does an amazing amount of commercial traffic and it was interesting to watch the long, low-slung boats carry their wares either making their way up from the Netherlands or down from Switzerland and Northern Germany. At this point there were not many people at all on the boat and the trip became peaceful. We snapped photos and consulted guidebooks but mostly just relaxed and enjoyed the moment.

Koblenz

Koblenz comes from a word meaning “confluence” and Koblenz is where the Rhine and Moselle. Sadly, it was late in the day and we didn’t have more than a few hours at the end of a workday to explore Koblenz but it is definitely a working, if not picturesque city. It’s hard to complain about a town not being tourist friendly when all we wanted all day was to be away from tourists so I’ll simply say that further evaluation is needed.

We found our train and took a long ride back to Bacharach. We would visit Koblenz again that week but just to transfer to points further west.