masadaI awoke and had to rub my eyes again and again. Was that Jerusalem outside my window? Unbelievable.

The day began full of promise and anticipation. Having visited some of the holiest sites in the world the previous day, my appetite for more ancient history had been whetted. On today’s agenda: Masada and a visit to the Dead Sea. Let’s go!

The drive from the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem where I was staying, to Masada was about an hour and a half. It was a drive unlike any other I’d ever taken. We descended surely but imperceptibly lower and lower into the bowels of the earth until we reached the absolute lowest point on earth – the Dead Sea. Markers along the highway indicate the depth as you go; the Dead Sea is situated at 422 metres below sea level. But before stopping to take a swim (or float) in the famed sea, we continued on to Masada.

Overlooking the Dead Sea, Masada, which means ‘fortress’ in Hebrew, is the site of a complex of palaces built by King Herod the Great between the years 37 and 31 BC. Designed to be a refuge in the event of an attack against him (he was a friend of the unpopular Romans), Masada was his safe (and luxurious, given the times) haven. What remains now may look like a pile of rubble, unimpressive at first glance. But a healthy imagination can transform the stone walls into ones neatly covered with plaster and paint, cool inside from the scorching sun and a majestic, intricately designed escape for Herod and his army. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, Masada is a big tourist draw.

Unfortunately, shortly after the tour commenced, I started to feel nauseous. The sweltering heat and cable car ride up to the top of Masada may have caused the dizzying sensations that forced me to sit out most of the tour. TIP: Drink lots of water. The sun can be sweltering and the naturally dry climate necessitates even more hydration than usual.

So we left and headed to the Dead Sea but sadly, I was in no shape to go swimming … or floating, to be more precise. I couldn’t have been more disappointed to miss my opportunity to float in the Dead Sea but I delighted in seeing others do it. Considering I’m a weak swimmer, the Dead Sea is just up my alley – you can’t possibly sink! But be careful: Our guide warned that ingesting even a small amount of the Dead Sea water can make you quite ill. Drinking about half a cup could kill you. Gulp.

Another hour and a half drive back to Jerusalem and then it was bed for me … I hope to sleep off this bug and be ready for another day of exploring tomorrow!

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