21 Essential Items for Your Ultimate Israel Packing List

Israel is one of my favorite places on God’s beautiful earth. Known throughout the world as the Holy Land, it is one of the planet’s foremost religious, spiritual, and cultural centers. From cosmopolitan and trendy Tel Aviv to soul-stirring and ancient Jerusalem, this country is a must-see.

I have led numerous tour groups to Israel over the years and just returned from a very special Advent tour. Visiting Bethlehem during Christmastime was truly incredible. I understand from experience the most important things you need to take in order to make your journey enjoyable, comfortable, and memorable.

Israel’s cultural, geographical, and religious diversity can make it difficult to know what to pack for your visit – especially if this is your first time. From essentials, basic necessities, Bible, spiritual growth tools, and understanding the dress code, this is a comprehensive packing list. Ready?

What to Pack for Israel – 21 Essentials

1. Power Adapter

In Israel, the power outlets require 230 V, 50 Hz, and type C and H power sockets, which is different from what we use in the United States. Though some European plugs will fit into Israeli outlets, it is best to use an international power adapter that works for nearly every country. I have used this one for years and it continues to work like a dream with hair dryers, straight irons, and everything in between. Just be sure that whatever adapter you take works in an Israeli outlet.

Ladies, I use this hairdryer, because it comes with a built-in international converter. Used with the adapter above, I have never blown a hotel outlet!

2. Pashmina Shawl/Scarf

A pashmina scarf or shawl for ladies will be endlessly useful when traveling in Israel. It can be used for layering, as a head or shoulder covering for entering holy sites, tied into a skirt to cover your knees in religious sites, or as a swimsuit cover up at the beach during summer travel. Versatile, stylish, portable, light, and breezy, I never regret bringing one of these on my trip.

3. RFD Protected Bag or Wallet

Whenever you travel to a big city in Israel or a particularly crowded, touristy destination (such as inside Jerusalem’s old city walls), it is imperative that you protect yourself from the risk of pickpockets. The best way to avoid being the target of pickpocketing is with a quality cross-body bag (for men, a neck wallet).

I have carried this one for years, and have it in both purple and brown. It is large enough to hold your valuables, such as cell phone, ATM cards, credit cards, cash, and passport, and has separately organized pouches so you can quickly and easily access your journal, map, water bottle, and other necessities.

4. Travel First Aid Kit

When traveling to a faraway destination like Israel, medical supplies are smart. Israel’s terrain contains hills, sand, and rocks, so small scrapes and blisters may rear their ugly heads. The last thing you want hindering your progress or causing unnecessary discomfort is an exposed, untreated scrape or blister.

I always pack this first aid kit because it is compact and covers just about everything that could arise. And very important: I have carried it through international TSA several times without issue.

5. Packing Cubes

If you want to become the savvy traveler you always dreamt of being, start using packing cubes! I have used these packing cubes for years. They will help keep you organized while traveling, which prevents becoming overwhelmed trying to find what you packed. These cubes also come with a separate bag to store your dirty laundry so as not to mix them with your clean clothes.

6. Travel Insurance for Israel

Whenever you travel to a foreign place, regardless of the destination, it’s imperative to make sure you’re covered in case of an emergency. Getting travel insurance is simpler than you might think.

I prefer to use Trip Insurance Consultants because of the variety of coverage and price levels it contains. My church also uses them for travelers on our mission trips. By planning ahead and getting travel insurance you can potentially save yourself the hassle and the expenses that come with flight cancellations, lost items, theft, and medical emergencies. It’s one of those things that I simply do not travel internationally without.

7. Long Skirt

As Israel is one of the world’s most significant religious centers, women should be sure to pack a long skirt or dress for visiting holy or religious sites. In Jewish or Muslim neighborhoods throughout the country, particularly in Jerusalem, modesty is key.

As Israel can get quite warm, especially during the summer, you will want to have a breezy, lightweight skirt to keep cool and covered. You can also use the pashmina listed above to cover your shoulders and knees at religious sites, rather than packing an extra skirt. Easy!

8. Camera

There is nothing worse than traveling to a spectacular place, taking photos, and later realizing that they are low-quality. In a destination as fascinating as Israel, you will want to have an excellent camera to properly capture the experience.

The camera that I use and highly recommend is high quality yet, comes with all necessary items, and is small enough to carry everywhere in your front pocket.

9. Prescription Medications

This almost goes without saying, but I’ll list it anyway. If you take regular prescription medication, pack it in its original bottle and be sure to pack a copy of the prescription, as well. Should an unforeseen event delay your return home, you do not want to be caught without a way to refill your necessary medications. I simply use my smallest packing cube (mentioned above) to hold any and all medical items.

Also, do not leave behind your essential over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen. With all of the walking and the hilly terrain, ibuprofen is a lifesaver!

10. Daypack

Israel is a very compact country, about the size of New Jersey. Yet it is absolutely packed with sites, cities, and diverse activities. Your days may include exploring cities, visiting museums and holy sites, hiking in the desert, and swimming in the Dead Sea.

A reliable day pack to carry a good supply of water, electronics, and any outfit changes is a necessity. I have used this reliable backpack for years and it is still going strong.

12. Portable Charger

Another incomparably useful travel item is a portable charger. If you’re relying on your smartphone to navigate or use as a camera and it runs out of battery in an inconvenient place, you may find yourself in a bit of a bind. A small, easy to carry portable charger can be a lifesaver when you really need it. I have this charger with both two and three USB charging portals. They charge many devices at once many times over.

13. Sunglasses

Israel enjoys a mild, Mediterranean climate, so you can expect a lot of clear, sunny days year-round. A good pair of UV-protected sunglasses will be essential to shield your eyes from the intense rays of the desert sun. In this pic, I climbing En Gedi where David hid from King Saul’s jealous rage. It was a gorgeous day.

14. Comfortable Walking Shoes

Plan to do a lot of walking when in Israel, especially in cities like Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Tel Aviv. The traffic congestion makes walking the preferred mode to get where you are going faster. You will want comfortable shoes that look appropriate, especially when you enter religious sites like churches or synagogues. I prefer Skechers, but any comfortable shoes with excellent support will work.

Quick story: During one summer trip to Israel, a woman in our group tried to enter the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with open-toed sandals. Although the sandals were not necessarily the problem that time of year, the blingy cross plastered on top of them was highly offensive to the locals. They equated the crosses on her feet to “walking on Jesus” in disrespect. Blingy is cute, just be courteous as to what that bling contains. Nice sandals are just fine.

15. Rain Jacket or Travel Umbrella

Some will say that you do not need to bother. I have been caught in rainstorms more than once, trust me you need one or both. A waterproof jacket with a hood works just fine for any kind of weather. If it’s a cooler time of the year, the jacket also serves as an extra layer for warmth instead of a heavy coat (which you do not need).

16. Water Bottle

Israel is a dry country – it’s the desert! You need to be sure to remain hydrated. It is a good idea to carry your own water bottle so that you always have a ready supply of fresh water. Yes, bottled water is abundantly available, but we do not need any more plastic in the world’s landfills. I love to take this one because it folds up to fit easily in my airline carry-on bag and saves space.

17. Extra Pair of Glasses or Contacts

If you wear contacts, like me, you will need to pack an extra pair. When those desert winds blow, the air contains sand particles – especially during their dry summers. I always pack a pair of extra contacts, as well as backup eyeglasses. If you strictly wear eyeglasses, it’s a good idea to pack your spare pair just in case uneven terrain causes a stumble.

18. Washcloth

Out of all of the hotels (of various shapes, sizes, and price ranges) that I have stayed in throughout Israel, only ONE supplied washcloths. They are not provided as a hotel staple like here in America, so it’s a good idea to pack one for washing your face or other basic necessities.

19. Swimsuit and Water Shoes

You can swim almost year-round in Israel thanks to its mild climate. You may opt for a water hike through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a float in the Dead Sea (this pic at the Dead Sea is from my 2019 tour), or other water activities. Hotels can provide towels, so do not take up valuable luggage space by packing a towel. Just be sure to take a few extra plastic bags in your daypack for your wet swimsuit and water shoes.

20. A Copy of Your Passport

This has literally saved my bacon in the past. Always, and I mean always, carry a copy of your passport. I tuck mine safely in my carry-on luggage side pocket. If you lose, or simply cannot find, your passport, this copy will be a lifesaver in getting you back home with much less hassle.

21. Bible and Journal

Last, but by no means least, Christians need to take your Bible and a journal. You are walking where Jesus and His disciples walked! I have used the same travel Bible for years. Each time I have read or taught from a particular passage, I wrote the date and location in the margin. Years later, each time I come across one of those marked placed, I remember the sounds, smell and feel of each location as if I was there again.

Journaling along the way is so important! I have used this one for years because it is a handy size and uses refillable, lined paper. The handmade leather has only gotten more beautiful over time.

Traveling to Israel will deeply impact your spiritual journey more than any other location. Ever. Out of all the places on earth, God chose Israel as the birthplace and ministry of His Son, Jesus Christ. Walking in His footsteps and experiencing Jewish culture will forever change you from the inside out.

I hope you this list has been helpful! I pray that you will join me on my next Holy Land tour in March 2024 (details here).

Trust me when I say that you will never read Scripture the same again.

God will turn your life, heart and soul upside down.

In the best way.

Caesarea Aqueduct, December 2022

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Bethlehem: The Church of the Nativity

Only six miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank stands the oldest continually used place of Christian worship in the world, Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Originally built in the fourth century on the spot Christians hold as the birthplace of Jesus, historical sources reference the site as early as the second century.

Today, the Church of the Nativity is one of the most important sites of Christian pilgrimage, alongside Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Earlier this month, I led a group of thirty pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and its beautiful Church of the Nativity. Visiting in December took on special meaning as the birthplace of our Savior. Leading up to our visit and during our time there, I learned the extensive and powerful history of the Church of the Nativity which will inform your next (or first) visit to this incredible church.

Preserving A Holy Cave and Constantine’s Church

Commissioned by the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century, the first church built at the site was consecrated on May 31, 339. However, by the mid-third century, the site had already taken on a sacred position. Early church Father Origen writes about a cave in Bethlehem that was known to be the place of Jesus’s birth.

Thus, Empress Helena journeyed to the Holy Land in 327 AD and a basilica was constructed above the cave, parts of which still exist today. This church consisted primarily of an octagonal altar located directly above the cave, with a five-aisle nave and an atrium.

Intricate mosaic tile floors were part of the original Byzantine church, and they can still be seen today. Wooden floors have been built over the mosaic flooring for its protection, but at certain spots, special hatches have been installed that can be lifted to view the original fourth-century mosaics. There was a collective audible gasp when our group was able to view them. They are stunning, to say the least!

Justinian’s Church of the Nativity

Constantine’s original Church of the Nativity stood until the early sixth century when it was partly burned down. Although it is uncertain what event caused the fire, many believe that it was a result of the Samaritan revolts, which were responsible for the burning of several other churches in the region. Nevertheless, Emperor Justinian reconstructed the church soon after. It is this Justinian basilica that still stands today, although numerous modifications have been made through the centuries.

Many modifications and refurbishments occurred during the Crusader period (1099–1291 AD); however, some sections of the church still preserve Constantine’s original fourth-century construction. The Justinian church changed the octagonal altar area into a cruciform (cross) shape. The nave was extended and the atrium was covered to construct a narthex. Justinian erected fifty, 18-foot tall columns along the nave and transepts constructed from local stone quarried near Jerusalem’s Old City.

The courtyard and columned walkway offer beautiful places for reflection, prayer, and simply sitting and pondering what happened here over 2,000 years ago. The key is to never forget the history and miracle of the Christ child’s birth as you walk through the church and grounds.

The Crusader Period

Unlike most other churches in the region, the Church of the Nativity remained relatively unscathed between the time of Justinian and the modern day, avoiding destruction during the periods of instability and turmoil that accompanied the Sassanid, Islamic, and Crusader conquests.

Part of this was due to the church’s distance from Jerusalem, and the relative insignificance of Bethlehem for the region’s strategic defense. The church’s survival even led to stories and legends that it was miraculously protected from such events.

Islamic Rule

During the early Islamic period (c. 634–1099 AD), a Muslim prayer space was introduced into the church alongside the traditional areas of Christian worship. The site remained a pilgrimage destination for western Christians during this time. In 808 AD, Charlemagne sent a mission to the church to record its various details and possibly even carry out some repairs.

On June 7, 1099, the Crusading Franks conquered Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. The following year, Baldwin of Boulogne’s coronation as king of the Kingdom of Jerusalem took place inside the church. Baldwin II would likewise be crowned king at the site in 1119.

During its years under Crusader control, extensive repairs and modifications were made to the church, mainly to bring it into conformity with the Latin rite. The basic plan of the Justinian church was left in place, however, as well as many of the various architectural features, including the columns. The Crusaders further encircled the complex in a large wall, parts of which were later incorporated into various monasteries that still stand today.

Beginning in the Crusader period, numerous murals, mosaics, and paintings were added to the church, including the lavish wall mosaics that are still partially preserved today, and the column paintings of various saints and supplicants, which were likely a joint venture between the church leaders and wealthy pilgrims.

The Church from Saladin until Today

Upon Saladin’s conquest of the Holy Land (around 1187 AD), much of the Roman Catholic clergy left the Church of the Nativity. Nevertheless, the church suffered very little damage and Christian worship continued at the site under the Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and other Christian traditions. Eventually, the Roman Catholics returned. The Church would continue relatively unaltered until the Ottoman period (1516–1917 AD).

Under the Ottomans, much of the marble, which had once decorated the Church of the Nativity, was plundered, possibly to be used in refurbishing Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. Since graven images are strictly forbidden according to Muslim law, many of the faces of the images on the columns were removed and unable to be restored properly.

Although still in use, the church would enter a long period of decay. Likewise, the central nave of the church was used for non-worship purposes, including legal proceedings and even housing Ottoman troops in the middle east when required. Eventually, church officials regained control over the church although, over the next several centuries, it continued to fall into disrepair.

The Modern Church of the Nativity

In 2012, the Church of the Nativity was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the time of its listing, it was considered in danger due to its poor state of preservation. However, in 2013, church officials and conservators began massive renovation projects on the church, restoring it to much of its former glory, Today, nearly two million visitors and pilgrims visit the church every year.

The entrance into the church is called “the Door of Humility” and was constructed during the Ottoman period. This small rectangular doorway is less than five feet high. In order to pass through this door, visitors are forced to bow down as they enter the church. The fact that visitors and pilgrims have to bow down in order to enter the Church of the Nativity has a theological significance: We must humble ourselves in order to approach God.

Accessing the Site Where Jesus was Born

The cave area where tradition holds that Jesus was born is located underneath the church’s altar area. Access is gained by descending steep marble steps into a grotto-like area. Various religions have donated ornate oil lamps that clergy and priests ensure are kept burning around the clock all year long.

The traditional place of Jesus’ birth is marked by a 14-point star, which signifies that Jesus is the son of David. Why a 14-point star? The Hebrew name for King David, dwd, has a numeric value: (d = 4) + (w = 6) + (d = 4) = the number 14. Also, three sets of fourteen generations separate Abraham and the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:17).

Visiting Bethlehem in December

Visiting Bethlehem in December is magical, to say the least. As the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem is a must-stop this time of the year during the holiday season. I lead private groups on tours of Israel and this “Christmas city” where the birth of Christ took place is always a favorite. The low temperatures are in the 40s, while the average temperature in the daytime is in the 60s. December is not the coldest month and I have never encountered inches of snow during this time; however, snow has been known to happen in December.

This first month of the winter season means that winter shadows create excellent opportunities for taking beautiful photographs. December is one of the lowest UV index months, as well, and the average rainfall is minimal. Winter conditions requiring snow removal are exceedingly rare. Cold winds and snow showers are rare this time of year, as well. Cloud cover and the dew point are low, though a wet day may happen (as it rained briefly when our group was there).

The Bottom Line

It is important to understand the historical and traditional significance of Christian holy sites. However, we cannot leave out the spiritual significance. Bethlehem, according to God’s Word, was the place hand-picked by God before the beginning of time to welcome His Son into the world.

Bethlehem was intentionally chosen by our Creator. And our Creator intentionally created you.

If you ever have a chance to visit Bethlehem, do not let the physical beauty of a church diminish the spiritual significance of that beautiful place.

{Some of these links are affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through that link, the ministry may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your ministry support!}

Carry-On vs. Checked Bag: Which One Is Best? Important FAQ

The best travel experience begins by knowing what and how to pack your travel items. Now that travel has pretty much returned to normal, many are planning trips for the first time in a long time. So refreshing ourselves on the basics is always a great idea.

I feel very blessed to travel regularly. I just returned from leading a 10-day Reformation Tour through Germany and next month I will lead a 10-day tour through the Holy Land through Israel.

Although I am not a certified travel expert, I am a well-seasoned traveler of over 35 years who has logged plenty of real-time airline miles.

I hope that this guide covers everything you need to know about baggage categories, as well as extra tips like what to pack in which and essential accessories that keep your suitcases organized and safe.

Two Main Types of Luggage Categories

Carry-ons and checked bags are the two main types of luggage categories that airlines designate for both domestic and international travel. So how do you choose the right sized luggage and what are the differences between a carry-on vs. checked bag?

Overview of Carry-On vs. Checked Bag

What is carry-on baggage?

This is baggage that you take with you in the passenger area of the airplane. It can be stored above the seating in the overhead bin space, or if small enough, underneath the seat in front of you. Airlines usually allow one carry-on suitcase per passenger.

What is checked baggage? 

This is baggage that is stored in the cargo area underneath the airplane. Your check-in baggage is tagged and handed over to the airline’s conveyor belt at flight check in before you head over to security. Depending on the airline, you may be able to take multiple checked bags. This could be helpful if you are moving abroad or going on a long trip.

Guidelines for Carry-on vs. Checked Baggage

Size

The biggest difference between a carry-on vs. checked bag is size limits. Airlines may have slight differences in their suitcase size restrictions. However, the standard maximum dimensions for both international flights and domestic flights are:

  • Carry-on: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
  • These measurements are height x width x depth of the suitcase and include the wheels (and account for the handle being tucked away.) These are usually stored inside the airplane cabin in an overhead compartment.
  • Checked: 62 linear inches
  • Checked baggage can be any size up to 62 linear inches, which is equal to the height + width + depth measurements added together. These are always transported in the cargo storage space underneath the airplane.

The maximum dimensions may vary slightly by airline, so be sure to check your airline’s different rules.

Helpful tidbit: In recent years, many airlines have placed a stand at the airport check-in counters with slots where you can insert your carry-on to see if it fits the airline’s regulations. Confirming your free carry-on size helps to avoid the dreadful checked bag fee.

A larger checked bag or unusual/bulky luggage that holds a large musical instrument (think cello) or golf clubs requires special handling and usually incurs an extra fee.

Weight Restrictions

Typically, there are no weight restrictions for carry-on bags and airlines won’t make you weigh it. But there are a few, like budget airlines or smaller regional jet planes, that instill a weight limit on carry-on baggage, so you’ll just have to check the specific requirements of the company you’re flying with if you have heavy carry-on bags. The standard maximum suitcase weight for checked luggage is 50 lbs/23 kg.

Packing Restrictions

There are certain things you are only allowed to pack in checked luggage and certain things you are only allowed to pack in carry-on luggage. One of the most common examples is lithium batteries, which cannot be placed in a checked bag.

Fees

Whether or not you are charged for baggage is dependent on the airline and your fare. Fare is usually divided into tiers like Basic Economy, Economy, Business, Business First, and First Class (among others). Most airlines offer a free checked bag with a premium class ticket but may charge for checked baggage with lesser class tickets (domestic or international.)

Low-cost airlines, such as Spirit or Ryanair, charge bag fees on their basic fare. You may also incur an additional fee if your bag is overweight.

Helpful tidbit: Many airlines allow passengers to have both a carry-on bag and personal item bag. The personal item bag must completely fit underneath the seat in front of you or it will be counted as a carry-on. Personal item bags usually consist of a purse, laptop bag, small backpack, or a diaper bag.

Important Factors When Choosing Carry-On vs. Checked Bag

Storage Capacity

There is an obvious difference in storage capacity between a carry-on vs. checked bag. Carry-on bags are perfect when you want to pack light. They are ideal for weekend trips or short getaways, since they weigh less and make for a smoother, more convenient airport experience.

For longer or seasonal trips, checked luggage might be needed to fit all the items that you require. For instance, a ski trip to Canada carrying bulky winter clothing and snow boots usually results in a checked bag.

Portability

Carry-on baggage is lighter and easier to maneuver, which can be a factor in deciding whether you want to take along a checked bag. For example, when I get away to the remote Smoky Mountains for a writing sabbatical or to finish a book, I do not carry bulky checked bags to haul up the mountainside to a cabin. I choose Airbnbs that have a washer and dryer so that I can reuse the same clothes.

Risk of Lost Luggage

If you are traveling with checked baggage and have connecting flights, your bag has a greater chance of getting lost in the shuffle. Here are a few tried and true ways to avoid such a conundrum if you have a connecting flight to your final destination:

  • Ask at check-in if your bag is flying directly to your final destination. If not, you will need to get off the plane at your connecting airport, pick up your bag at baggage claim, and check it in again at the airline counter. This usually only happens if you book separate flights/tickets.
  • Keep the tag that prints with your checked bag label. At the end of the long label that prints with your luggage tag sticker, there is a small square with your contact information. This will help airlines locate your bag.
  • Attach a luggage tag with your personal information. You should tag your luggage even if you are flying carry-on only in the event that you arrive at the gate and the airline makes you check your carry-on bag. This can happen when flights are full and they are expecting little space available by the time boarding ends. Write your full name, phone number, email, and address on each tag.

The only sure way to avoid lost baggage is to travel with carry-on bags only!

Price

Carry-on bags are often free on most major airlines, except for the scenarios we have already covered. Checked baggage fees can be hefty, with most starting at $50 per bag. Again, check with your specific airline.

Carry-On & Checked Suitcase Essentials

Whether you go with one or both, these tools are essential to both carry-ons and checked bags.

  • Packing Cubes
  • Packing cubes are the ultimate packing tool for saving space in your suitcase. My go-to cubes are listed below.
  • Small Luggage Scale
  • Weighing your suitcase is easiest with a portable luggage scale. The benefit of this is that you can pack this lightweight scale in your suitcase. This is especially helpful for the international tours that I lead in order to bring souvenirs back home without exceeding the checked bag weight limits.
  • Luggage Locks
  • Some suitcases already come with locks, or you can attach a TSA approved lock. This ensures no one tampers with your bag.

What To Always Pack In Your Carry-On

There are a few items you should always pack in a carry-on bag no matter how you’re traveling. These include:

  • Important travel documents (itineraries, passports, boarding passes, vaccine records, etc.)
  • Jewelry and any other valuables
  • Prescriptions/Medications
  • Extra travel outfit
  • Electronics (including chargers)

Whether or not you bring a checked bag, I always recommend bringing a carry-on bag. It serves as an extra place to keep valuables safe, reading material, fun activities to occupy you during the flight, or even for storing items that you may have bought in the airport.

Pros & Cons Overview

In summary, when it comes to a carry-on vs checked bag, here are the main pros and cons:

Carry-On Pros

  • Skip the check-in counter lines
  • Skip baggage claim
  • Travel light

Carry-On Cons

  • Limits how much you can bring

Checked Bag Pros

  • Accommodates extra items for a more comfortable vacation

Checked Bag Cons

  • More cumbersome and heavier
  • Baggage fees
  • Less convenient airport experience
  • Risk of getting lost with flight connections

Essentials to Pack Regardless of Luggage Size

First of all, reliable luggage is crucial. After using soft-sided luggage for years, I switched to hard-sided luggage seven years ago. They simply last longer. My luggage set is shimmering purple so that it sticks out among the plethora of black bags. I bought this 3-size set in November 2015 and it is still going strong after thousands of international travel miles.

With reliable luggage in place, these are the essentials that I routinely pack which make travel easy, comfortable and stylish.

Packing Cubes

These light weight, sturdy, and breathable packing cubes (with laundry bag included) have made traveling a dream. Organizing clothes by type or occasion saves SO much time. Mine are aqua because I love color!

Collapsible Reusable Water Bottle

Not only is a reusable water bottle environmentally friendly, a collapsible one saves space and I can trust its cleanliness. Many airports are now equipped with water bottle filling stations with cold, fresh, filtered water.

Robust Portable Battery

I cannot imagine traveling without my smartphone. It provides instant access to maps, local information, flight delay notifications, and so much more. Consequently, I bought this portable battery charger in September 2017 and never looked back. With two ports, it can charge my smartphone and laptop simultaneously for multiple hours each.

Noise Cancelling Wireless Earbuds

A dear friend gifted me with these noise cancelling wireless earbuds for my birthday and they are phenomenal. I can put on soothing music to sleep or work while in the air and they block out every noisy distraction. She could not have picked a better gift for a busy traveler.

An Actual Camera

I love taking pictures, so when I lead a multi-day international tour or go on vacation, I use an actual camera to take better quality, frameable photos. Photography may not be your cup of tea, but if it is, this camera has proven to be easily portable, takes high quality photos, and is an absolute winner.

Travel Pillow

Though I usually do not travel with my own pillow on domestic flights, it is a neck saver while sleeping on international flights. I like this particular one because it is not bulky behind my neck. It wraps around and provides much-preferred side support. I also like that it is machine washable so that I always have a clean pillow.

International Power Adapter

U.S. plugs are different than the rest of the world, so you need a power adapter for international trips. I have used this one for years and it has never failed. With 4 AC plugs and 3 USB adapters in one device, I have successfully used my flat iron while charging my laptop and smartphone simultaneously. Since this adapter works in both Europe and Israel, I do not need to keep track of two different adapters.

Travel Hairdryer with Built-In Adapter

U.S. hairdryers are notorious for blowing international hotel outlets because of the high voltage our hairdryers use. Consequently, I use this simple Conair travel hairdryer with a built in converter, along with the adapter that I just mentioned above. I used them multiple times on my recent trips through Germany and Israel and the combination worked beautifully with no blown hotel outlets or ruined hairdryer as a result.

Laptop Backpack/Organizer

Though I only take this laptop backpack if I am going on an extended ministry or writing/research trip, it has proven to be invaluable. It is lightweight, water proof (great for electronics!), and has USB chargers on both the outside and inside. It also offers plenty of room for notepads, itineraries, research papers, magazines, and other travel necessities.

Travel Journal

As a writer and travel enthusiast, a travel journal is vital for capturing thoughts, prayers, ah-ha moments, God nudges, and much more. I have used this one for years because it is a handy size and uses refillable, lined paper. The handmade leather has only gotten more beautiful over time.

Although there are many other travel items that I could mention, these are my mainstays that I rarely leave home without.

Final Thoughts About Carry-On vs. Checked Bags

I have traveled both with and without checked bags, so the best choice depends on what your trip requires. Traveling light with a carry-on results in a less expensive and less cumbersome travel experience. However, it requires diligence while packing in such a limited space.

Carry-on only travel is ideal for weekend and short-term trips, budget travelers, and even feasible for longer trips if you are able to do laundry. 

Checked luggage offers the freedom of taking everything you want, but lacks comfort in other aspects, like navigating through the airport or around your destination once you arrive. It also comes with a higher price tag, so budget travelers may feel the pinch.

Traveling with checked bags might be necessary for long trips, easy-to-navigate destinations (think paved U.S. city streets with hotel luggage porters vs. European cobblestone streets and historic hotels with three flights of stairs instead of elevators), and travelers who have a little extra to spend.

One final important consideration is the type of your accommodation – a hostel or small Airbnb apartment may not be as roomy with large suitcases as a spacious hotel room provides.

I hope that this experiential information has helped answer questions you may have had about carry-ons vs. checked bags. Also, I hope that my go-to travel items spark your imagination and wonder of traveling.

Happy trails!

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Reformation Tour Through Germany: Nuremberg, Augsburg, Munich and the Passion Play

We have traced my 10-day tour through Germany in the steps of Martin Luther through Erfurt, Wittenberg, Wartburg Castle, and Eisenach. We have looked at how Luther became a monk, then a priest, then a leader of the Reformation movement after he posted the 95 Theses on the Castle Church doors.

Next, our tour group turned south toward Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Munich, which we will cover today.

Nuremberg

Luther called Nuremberg “the eye and the ear of Germany” because of its 21 printing houses. On July 6, 1530, Luther wrote an open letter from the Veste Coburg (Coburg Fortress) to Elector and Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg, challenging his opponents to prove him wrong according to Scripture.

Luther wrote: “I would have preferred to write this letter in confidence and by hand to your Electoral Grace. But, I was afraid that in this fast time, it might possibly be published adulterated and misinterpreted on my behalf one way or the other. And, perhaps I would put your Electoral Grace under suspicion. That is why I dared to publish it in print myself, so as to prevent the poisonous, suspicious interpreters.”

Luther was burdened by the discord between the German princes triggered by his Augsburg Confession. He criticized the German princes, who adhered to the pope’s followers, in drastic words. Nuremberg was the first major city to embrace Lutheranism.

St. Sebald Church

St. Sebald is Nuremberg’s oldest church, consecrated in 1273, and was the first Catholic cathedral to convert to Lutheranism. It takes its name from Sebaldus, an 8th-century hermit and missionary and patron saint of Nuremberg.

Construction began in 1225 and was completed by 1273-75. It was originally built as a Romanesque basilica with various additions and stained glass added in subsequent centuries.

The church suffered serious damage during World War II and was subsequently reconstructed. Some of the old interior did survive, including the Shrine of St. Sebaldus, works by Veit Stoss and the stained glass windows. The church had an organ by the 14th century, and another by the 15th.

St. Lorenz Church

We also stepped into St. Lorenz (St. Lawrence) church. Building begun around 1250 and was originally built as a three-aisled basilica in the high Gothic style.

It was built on the site of a former Romanesque chapel dedicated to “St. Lawrence the Holy Sepulchre”, which belonged to the parish church of the city of Fürth and was mentioned in documents of the first half of the 13th century.

St. Lorenz was one of the first churches in Germany to become Lutheran (since 1529). Today the church belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria.

Augsburg

From Nuremberg, our group headed to Augsburg, where Martin Luther met with the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan, at their demand, in 1518 at St. Anna’s Church. Augsburg was the site of another Imperial Diet (political assembly) in 1530, at which Protestants presented their confession. At the time it was the foremost doctrinal statement of the Lutheran Church.

The Augsburg Confession

The Augsburg Confession consisted of the 28 articles that constituted the basic confession of the Lutheran churches. It was presented June 25, 1530, in German and Latin at the Diet of Augsburg to the emperor Charles V by seven Lutheran princes and two imperial free cities.

The principal author was the reformer Philipp Melanchthon, who drew on earlier Lutheran statements of faith. The purpose was to defend the Lutherans against misrepresentations and to provide a statement of their theology that would be acceptable to the Roman Catholics. 

The first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession set forth Lutheran doctrine in order to demonstrate that “they dissent in no article of faith from the Catholic Church.” The remaining seven articles discuss abuses that had crept into the Western church in the centuries immediately preceding the Reformation.

Twenty five years later in the Augsburg town hall, the Peace of Augsburg was signed in 1555, ending for a time the religious wars in Germany between the Catholics and the Protestants.

Where the Augustinian Confession made and split forever the Catholic and Protestant churches.

Munich

When we finished walking through Augsburg on a beautiful fall day, we boarded the bus and headed down to Munich to enjoy Germany’s historic Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest

I had never been to Oktoberfest before and it was so much fun! Each tent boasted a different theme and different menu. There was live music and merriment in every tent. Although the day started out cold and rainy, it ended beautifully so that we were able to walk around and fully enjoy Oktoberfest.

Munich’s Glokenspiel

We paused in Munich’s Marienplatz at Noon to watch the beautiful Glokenspiel (clock) in the City Tower. The clock shows two events from Munich’s city history. On the Glokenspiel’s top floor, the wedding of Duke Wilhelm V and Renate of Lorraine, celebrated in February 1568. In honor of the bride and groom, a jousting tournament took place on Marienplatz. The Bavarian knight triumphed over his opponent from Lorraine.

The lower floor shows the Schäffler dance. After a severe plague epidemic, the barrel makers are said to have been the first to venture out into the streets again, dancing to amuse the plague-stricken population.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Maximilian II had already had paths and lookout points constructed in the area around Hohenschwangau in order to be able to enjoy the scenery. In the 1840s, as a birthday present for his mountain-climbing consort Marie, he had the bridge, the “Marienbrücke”, built high above the Pöllat Gorge.

“New Hohenschwangau Castle” (it only acquired the name of “Neuschwanstein” after the death of the king). It was to be a better recreation of an ideal medieval castle than Hohenschwangau.

Hohenschwangau Castle

Crown Prince Maximilian II of Bavaria, Ludwig II’s father, had the ruined castle of Schwanstein rebuilt from 1832 in the “Gothic style”. The young Ludwig was influenced by the romantic mountain scenery and the summer castle became one of his favourite places to stay.

Hohenschwangau was decorated with scenes from medieval legends and poetry, including the legend of the swan knight Lohengrin. Ludwig identified himself when still a boy with Lohengrin, to whom Richard Wagner dedicated a romantic opera in 1850.

Linderhof Palace

Ludwig II, who was crowned king in 1864, began his building activities in 1867/68 by redesigning his rooms in the Munich Residenz and laying the foundation stone of Neuschwanstein Castle. In 1868 he was already making his first plans for Linderhof. However, neither the palace modelled on Versailles that was to be sited on the floor of the valley nor the large Byzantine palace envisaged by Ludwig II were ever built.

Instead, the new building developed around the forester’s house belonging to his father Maximilian II, which was located in the open space in front of the present palace and was used by the king when crown prince on hunting expeditions with his father. Linderhof Palace, the eventual result of a long period of building and rebuilding, is the only large palace King Ludwig II lived to see completed.

Oberammergau

We spent the night in Munich before heading to Oberammergau after breakfast. Oberammergau is a lovely village with so much medieval charm. There are many quaint shops, a museum, Lutheran church, and woodcarving workshop.

Some of our group attended the morning service at the Lutheran Church, and our very own Pastor John Heckmann was invited to do the Gospel readings. It was a lovely, spirit-filled, and peace-filled service with a kind pastor and extraordinary organist. Attending that church service was truly one of the trip’s highlights for me personally.

The Passion Play

Then it was time to attend the Passion Play! The whole town organizes it’s meal schedules and staff around showtime so that everyone can participate serving behind the scenes or actually taking part in the play itself.

The history of the Oberammergau Passion Play begins in 1633. In the midst of the Thirty Years’ War, after months of suffering and dying from the plague, the people of Oberammergau pledged to act out the play of the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ once every 10 years. The promise has been kept until this year when it had to postponed from 2020 to 2022 due to COVID.

The entire play is delivered in German, however the text book is all in English and is very easy to follow. It tells about the choir, what music they are singing, and the dialogue of the actors so that you always know where they are in the storyline.

No pictures are allowed during the five hour performance (split into two segments with a long intermission in between), but their website has beautiful pictures to peruse.

I snapped a few of the venue and scenery before the play actually began. It is covered, but not enclosed, so be sure to bundle up if it is cold. We had blankets for our laps, winter coats, mittens, scarves and warm socks to keep warm. Here we are!

The next morning, we headed to the airport bound for home in the United States. Walking in Luther’s footsteps was truly an amazing learning adventure. God used Luther in significant ways in the church, and the work that Luther and his fellow reformers did still carries the Protestant churches today.

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Reformation Tour Through Germany: Eisenach and Wartburg Castle

So far, our 10-day trip through Germany in the steps of Martin Luther have taken us through Erfurt and Wittenberg. We have traced Luther’s beginnings, when he became a monk, then ordained as a priest, and finally when Luther posted the 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church.

On a beautiful Fall day in Bavaria, Germany, our group then turned toward the town of Eisenach and Wartburg Castle.

Eisenach

The charming town of Eisenach was founded in the middle ages around 1150 and later chartered in 1283. It is situated on the northwestern slopes of the Thuringian Forest where the Hörsel and Nesse rivers converge. Germany’s Social Democratic Workers’ Party was founded at the Congress of Eisenach in 1896. This view of Eisenach from Wartburg Castle was stunning!

Martin Luther stayed in Eisenach’s Lutherhaus as a schoolboy. Since our group had seen the Lutherhaus in Wittenberg where he spent 36 years of his life, we did not stop at the Lutherhaus as part of a guided tour in Eisenach.

Other notable landmarks include the Romanesque Church of St. Nicholas, the Gothic St. George’s Church, and museums in memory of the composer Johann S. Bach (born at Eisenach in 1685).

The slow-paced atmosphere and stunning surroundings make Eisenach worth visiting. There are no medieval fortifications or a fairytale castle, but there was charm at every turn. And even though Martin Luther spent time here, another famous resident lived (and was actually born) in this gem in the state of Bavaria. Our first stop off the tour bus was visiting the house and museum of Johann S. Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Right next to Eisenach’s main square, a statue of Bach stands next to the Bach house. And it was another gorgeous Fall day!

The Bach House first opened its doors in 1907 and it is still the largest museum dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach in the world.

In his birthplace we encountered the life and work of the composer in a unique way. More than 250 exhibits occupy the adjacent museum, preserved historical living spaces transported us back to his time, and the atmospheric baroque garden were delightful.

This is the front of Bach’s original home, still preserved well today. Although when you view it from the side, the upper walls are leaning out slightly on top of the original stonework base.

A plaque on the front door memorializes this as Johann S. Bach’s original home. He was born in Eisenach on March 21, 1685 and grew up here for the first ten years of his life. He had his first music lesson here, sang in the school choir and also sang at St. George’s Church.

The beautiful baroque garden offered Bach a beautiful oasis away from distractions and Eisenach’s bustling city life to compose his musical masterpieces.

They have beautifully preserved Bach’s studio where he composed the vast majority of his musical masterpieces. His desk remains as it was when he walked the halls.

We experienced a delightful treat when the Bach House’s resident musician gave a 30-minute concert using century-old instrument replicas of the ones that Bach would have actually played on. What a lovely treat to hear Bach’s music in Bach’s home!

Our group took a break after touring through Bach’s home, garden, and concert to enjoy lunch. I was delighted to find a “Little Bach” to accompany my “Little Luther” keepsake! Naturally, I had to assemble each as we waited for our wienerschnitzel to arrive.

Following lunch, our group boarded the bus to head up the hill to Wartburg Castle. It is perched on a low mountain with sweeping views of Eisenach below.

Wartburg Castle

On a hill above the city is the Wartburg, an ancient castle of the landgraves, where Luther began his translation of the Bible, Wartburg Castle sits in splendor over the town of Eisenach in Thuringia.

It was the first German castle to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and is widely described as an exemplary hilltop castle of the feudal period in central Europe, despite alterations and additions made in later centuries. Wartburg Castle presents an impressive overview of 1,000 years of German history.

According to legend, the castle’s origins date back to 1067. The surviving main castle building, the 12th century palas (great hall), a gem of late Romanesque architecture, still bears traces of its former glory.

As the main seat of the landgraves, the castle was a pre-eminent center of artistic endeavour where all of the fine arts were celebrated. It once echoed to the songs of Walther von der Vogelweide and inspired a number of epic poems by Wolfram von Eschenbach.

This was the setting of the fabled Battle of the Bards, a tale immortalized in Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser. Wartburg Castle was also the home of Saint Elisabeth, still revered to this day. The Wartburg Festival of 1817, organised by the student fraternities, celebrated the achievements of Luther, the Reformation and the Battle of Leipzig. The main hall can hold over 300 people.

Wartburg Castle in Eisenach is the most visited Luther site in the world, attracting 350,000 visitors every year. Its mighty walls provided refuge for Martin Luther for almost a year after he was ostracized and excommunicated by Rome following the Diet of Worms (1521). This painting of Luther was rendered here during his lifetime.

It was here that he started translating the New Testament into German, laying the foundations for a standardized German language. One room in Wartburg Castle is dedicated solely to displaying Luther’s translated Bible and other Reformation-era documents.

The Luther Room – where Luther lived and worked during his time at the castle – has for centuries been a destination for countless pilgrims from around the world. The rooms where he worked, prayed and ate are beautifully preserved just as they were in Luther’s time here.

Wartburg also contained an impressive library, which Luther would have accessed while translating the Bible into German and setting the standardized German language that is still spoken and written today.

Wartburg Castle also contained a beautiful chapel that was built in the 1100s. Parts of mural paintings (above the head of the castle’s tour guide) from the 13th century are carefully preserved.

As we exited Wartburg Castle to board the bus for our next town, it is always nice to run into friends! Dr. David Mahsman and I finally connected in person as we were both leading tours through Germany at the same time. He and his wife Lois were able to join our group for dinner the next evening. Delight!

David and I first began working together as part of the WordRus ministry project to translate eight of my LWML Bible studies in German (among other languages). The Ukrainian and Russian translations are available for free download to share with your friends and missionaries in those countries!

I could have spent another week in Eisenach exploring the town and castle. This is definitely a must-visit place, especially to follow the footsteps of Martin Luther during the Reformation.

Reformation Tour Through Germany: Wittenberg

Though we did not come during Germany’s famous Christmas markets, Germany is a great place to visit any time of year.

After a good night’s sleep in Berlin following a full day of sites and experiences, our group of 28 travelers crossed the Elbe River and headed to the historic town of Wittenberg – heart of the Protestant Reformation.

Wittenberg

Wittenberg is a city in north-central Germany along the Elbe River, southwest of Berlin. First mentioned in 1180 and chartered in 1293, it was the residence of the Ascanian dukes and electors of Saxony from 1212 until it passed, with electoral Saxony, to the house of Wettin in 1423. 

Wittenberg is one of the smaller towns located on the river Elbe and was the launching point for the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther lived and taught in the city for 36 years.

This statute of Martin Luther sits in Wittenberg’s city center. Other reformers left their mark on this city, as well. Unlike many other historic German cities during World War II, Wittenberg’s city center was spared destruction. Walking on those medieval cobblestones felt like stepping back in time!

Wittenberg University, made famous by its teachers, the religious reformers Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, was founded by the elector Frederick the Wise in 1502 and merged in 1817 with the University of Halle to form the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg.

In 1547, when John Frederick the Magnanimous signed the Capitulation of Wittenberg, the electorate passed from the Ernestine to the Albertine line of the Wettins, and the town ceased to be the official residence.

Wittenberg was occupied in 1806 by the French, who strengthened its fortifications in 1813; the fortress was stormed by the Prussians in 1814, and the city was assigned to them in 1815.

We began our two-and-a-half hour guided tour through the old town and had the best time. It was a beautiful day! We missed the tourist high season and had much of the town to ourselves.

It was a crisp 60-degree day without a cloud in the sky as we strolled along a romantic road comprised of ancient cobblestone streets. The painted shops and traditional German architecture were worth visiting.

Lutherhaus

Our first stop was the Lutherhaus (Luther House) not far from the main square. When the University of Wittenberg opened in 1503, Luther House was built in 1504 as an Augustinian monastery. Known at the time as the “Black Monastery,” the name alluded to the cowl color of the Augustinian monks.

In 1507, after being ordained as a priest, Martin Luther lived in the monastery until in 1521, when he was forced to hide in Wartburg Castle to preserve his life and continue his work.

Passing through the medieval portico into the Lutherhaus felt surreal.

On the ceiling over the entryway doors (above) are beautifully carved and frescoed beams, along with a colored drawing of Luther’s seal.

The Lutherhaus courtyard is beautifully maintained.

This original fountain still offers running water today. The flowing stream glistens in the morning sunlight.

Luther’s wife Katharina von Bora gifted her husband with a portico (below). At the end of long days they each had a place to sit outside on either side of the door to pause, reconnect and exchange tidbits of their day’s adventures.

Above each seat, Katharina commissioned special carvings. Above Luther’s seat on the left, she had a likeness of his face etched.

Above her seat on the right, Katharina had a likeness of Luther’s seal etched.

The inside of their home is preserved precisely how they left it. The wooden boards creaked underfoot and the walls whispered history with each breeze.

Martin and Katharina ate at this dining table and sat in those window seats to exchange the day’s news. Luther paced on these very wood floors.

The ceiling holds evidence of smoke from fires lit in the medieval heating tower to keep them warm during Wittenberg’s frigid winters.

Medieval heating stove used to keep the Martin and Katharina warm on chilly days.

Carefully preserved behind ropes, Martin and Katharina went in and out of this very door. The original latch is quite impressive in size, though hard to ascertain from a distance.

In 1524, after Luther had returned to Wittenberg, the abandoned monastery was given to him as his home. He lived there until his death in 1546.

As we exited the Luthers’ well-preserved home interior, this plaque containing their portraits greeted us: “I would not want to exchange my Kathe for France not for Venice to boot.” Martin Luther, 1531.

Lutherhaus Permanent Exhibit

The Lutherhaus is now the world’s largest Protestant Reformation museum. On display are Luther’s pulpit, his monk’s habit, his Bible, and many priceless papers, manuscripts, and pamphlets.

This lectern was used regularly during recurring scholarly debates, so-called disputations. The chairperson of the disputation puts forward theses, which students are to attack or defend. The lowest part shows the coat of arms of the philosophical, the theological, the legal as well as the medical faculties.

A Luther portrait(above) is located in the center. Right above him we see an allegory of faith and the Hebrew name of God.

Lining the walls of the hall containing the lectern are many portraits of famous theologians and Reformers.

Figuring prominently in the room is this painting of Johannes Meisner (1615-1684), who served as a Professor of Theology at the University in 1667.

The Printing Press

Johannes Gutenberg is known as the “Father of Printing” because he was the first to combine the use of molded movable metal type, a press, and printer’s ink. Although not an original, a replica is displayed at the Lutherhaus.

Luther took full advantage of the modern technology of the printing press to reproduce his translated Bible and many sermons.

Luther’s Prayer Book

Luther’s prayer book was published for the first time in 1522. Beside his Bible translation and the Small Catechism, it was Luther’s most frequently read book.

Thirty-seven more editions were published within Luther’s lifetime. Apart from the Nuremberg print, the copy displayed here at the Lutherhaus is the only other original in existence.

A Mighty Fortress Hymn

The earliest print of Luther’s Autumn 1527 written hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” can be found in the first edition of Joseph Klug’s hymn book from 1529. Not one single copy of that edition came to the Lutherhaus. In 1932, they acquired the only known copy of this second edition from 1533.

Luther’s Bible

Below is the first complete edition of Luther’s Bible translated in the High German language.

First complete edition of Luther’s Bible translation in High German language

While Luther is best known as the father of that Reformation, he’s also the father of the German language as we know it. Before Luther, there was no single German language — just a series of dialects. Two in particular were dominant: Upper German and Low German. As a child, Luther lived on the linguistic borderlands that divide the two, and his family moved back and forth across the boundary several times.

As Luther translated the Bible into German for everyday worshippers, that fluency helped him craft a version of the language that everyone could understand.

Luther on Indulgences

This was a traditional indulgence chest, where a Franciscan monk or priest read out the text of a papal bull of indulgence at a church. In the center of the wood-cut a citizen would place a coin into the chest, being overseen by another monk.

Believers could purchase this form (above) from indulgence preachers once his payment had been received. The priests taught that this form conferred the right to believers to confess his sins once in his life and at his hour of death to a priest in order to be granted complete absolution, and release from purgatory.

Using the printing press, Luther printed his “Sermon on Indulgence and Grace” (above) which became widely circulated. It contains a clear explanation of grace and God’s righteousness bestowed on believers that do not require works or payment.

Looking back, Luther wrote in 1541: “My theses were truly racing through all of Germany in a matter of two weeks.” Simply standing in front of these documents that literally changed the face of God’s church forever was truly humbling and inspiring.

St. Mary’s Church (Stadtkirche)

From 1512, St. Mary’s was the main place where Martin Luther preached, and the first Protestant service was celebrated there at Christmas 1521. From here, Martin Luther preached his eight famous ‘Invocavit Sermons” in the church.

The towers’ octagonal caps seen today were built in 1556-58 after the Gothic stone pyramids on them had been removed during the Schmalkaldic War so that cannons could be positioned on the platforms.

In 1525, Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora were married in the church by Johannes Bugenhagen, the town’s first Protestant pastor.

The first Protestant priests were ordained here and mass was celebrated in German there for the first time. As a result, St. Mary’s came to be known as the ‘mother church’ of the Reformation.

Additional rebuilding work took place in 1569-71.

In the 19th century and the 1920s, the church’s furnishings were partly replaced. St. Mary’s Town Church was last refurbished between 2010-2016.

The church was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Stunning chandeliers hang in front of medieval age stained glass around the circumference of the main worship area.

Dappled sunlight beautifully highlights the ornate plaster work high above the pews.

Jesus looks down over the congregation from the highest center point on the ceiling.

The oldest part of St. Mary’s Town Church is the present-day chancel, which was built in around 1281. Construction work on the nave began in 1412.

St. Mary’s famous Reformation alter was built in 1547 by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger. On the display side you will find a detailed painting of the Last Supper with Martin Luther as one of the disciples. Philipp Melanchthon and Johannes Bugenhagen have also been immortalized there. 

The altar presents the Reformation’s main messages, showing the sermon, Holy Communion, baptism, confession, and Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection at the center of the Christian church.

The baptismal font is an ornately decorated medieval masterpiece by Hermann Vischer, the oldest exhibit in the church. Today, the vibrant St. Mary’s Town Church is the main place of worship of the Protestant community in Wittenberg.

Our group scattered to enjoy lunch in nearby restaurants with plenty of time before strolling to the historic Castle Church.

Castle Church

The castle church was built in 1506 on the foundation stones of the original castle of the Elector of Saxony. Construction of the Castle Church was completed in 1525 by Frederick the Wise. The church is most famous as the site where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses.

The castle tower, visible from afar, is framed by a line from one of Luther’s hymns, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The tower originally belonged to Wittenberg Castle along with a second tower that has been removed. 

In 1760, the church was destroyed by a fire resulting from an attack during the Seven Years’ War. The wooden doors on which Luther had posted the Theses were destroyed in the fire. In 1858, King Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia replaced them with commemorative bronze doors weighing 2,200 pounds each.

Displayed above the doors is a painting depicting Martin Luther holding a German Bible and Melanchthon holding the Augsburg Confession. Both are kneeling at the cross.

This view from the inside (below) where the doors hang today are not passable by visitors in order to preserve the heavy bronze doors.

Between 1885 and 1892 the church was redesigned in a new gothic style as a Memorial Church of the Reformation.

In 1996 the Castle Church was designated as a part of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The stunning organ and beautiful frescos add ambience and loveliness to this house of worship.

Martin Luther’s Tomb

Four days after Luther’s death in Eisleben, he was buried in front of the pulpit in the Castle Church. Next to Martin Luther’s grave is the resting place of his friend and fellow reformer, Philipp Melanchthon.

He is laid to rest under a low stone marker right under beautiful stained glass windows. As I taught our group who sat in the pews, the sun shone through the stained glass and cast beautiful colors on the floor around his marker.

The Old Latin School

During our afternoon free time, several of us visited the Old Latin School, which was built in 1564 as the city school for boys. It is managed by the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg as a non-profit organization in partnership with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It is yet another bright spot in this beautiful city.

The Old Latin School sits directly adjacent to St. Mary’s Church (Stadkirche) where Martin Luther and other reformers preached a life-changing message of grace alone, faith alone, through Christ alone. Stemming from the new approach to education being taught by the Wittenberg reformers, the Old Latin School. The church and school were truly central birthplaces of the Reformation.

Special Ministry Connection

By the grace of God, I have a special ministry connection to the Old Latin School. Through WordRus ministries in Eurasia, several of my Bible studies have been translated into Ukrainian. As only God can orchestrate, the Old Latin School is currently housing many Ukrainian refugees. During our afternoon break, several in our group walked over to the school to meet Netalyia, who not only runs the school but is a Ukrainian refugee herself.

A Cambridge-educated teacher, she is proficient in English and has been a huge blessing for the refugees as she helps them with their required paperwork and begins the process of teaching them English.

We met her 11-year-old son and 8-8year-old daughter and are amazed at their positive, gentleness after escaping the war that rages in their homeland right now. We had a chance to leave them a financial blessing and pray with them for God to continue blessing their work.

It’s a Good Idea to Visit Wittenberg

Although there are no fairytale castles here like the Neuschwanstein Castle, being in the epicenter of the Protestant Reformation is a thrill of a lifetime. This is a great spot to enjoy rich history and beautiful historic sites within walking distance! This is one of the most charming small towns and hidden gems that I have ever visited.

If you are traveling here, it is an easy road trip or day trip with an early start and train ticket from many locations. Public transportation is easily accessible due to the train station just outside the city. I highly recommend adding it to your Germany itinerary to step back into the Middle Ages.

We concluded our walking tour passed the town hall and city center, then enjoyed a good time exploring the town on our own. We had a great time!

And even though we were here in September, it would be a lovely trip during the sunny days of the summer months. If you prefer medieval towns to bigger cities, don’t miss out on this small city jewel called Wittenberg on your next Germany trip.

One Day in Berlin

We arrived in Berlin today on a beautiful 58-degree morning. After breezing through customs, we met our tour guide, Matthias, to begin our Berlin adventures!

We gathered our luggage and boarded a nice coach bus, our transportation for the next eight days. We swung by the hotel to pick up the rest of our group, and 28 adventurers began the first day of our guided tour. As an aside, the city’s train station offers the easiest way to travel if you are not on a Berlin tour and want to save time.

World War II Reminders

As we walked the cobblestone streets toward the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Matthias pointed out markers embedded in the cobblestone streets every so often. They mark the spots where a Jewish person (or family) had once lived but had been rounded up and sent to concentration camps for extermination.

Each marker remembers and honors the murdered Jews of Europe. These markers were embedded in front of a business, which used to be this family’s home.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

A short walk took us to the first stop of our Berlin itinerary: the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Originally constructed in 1895, it was a gift to the German people from Kaiser Wilhelm II. During a World War II bombing raid, the church was partially destroyed. The remnant has been beautifully preserved and offers a great place to see the resilience of the ordinary German citizens.

The rosette and stained glass windows were destroyed, as the damage is still visible in the stone’s pockmarks from shell fragments and absent gargoyles.

It was lunchtime so we dispersed to find the best places to enjoy local food. It was a welcome breather after the previous full day of travel. Several of our travelers tried German beer and discovered new favorites. German homemade noodles covered in cheese with meat were the best I had ever tasted!

Reichstag Building

We continued our walking tour with Matthias to the Reichstag building. Constructed in 1894 to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire, it was severely damaged by fire in 1933 and fell into disuse after World War II. After its reconstruction in 1999 it again became the meeting place of the German parliament.

The beautiful glass dome visible on the roof has inner circular stairs all the way to the top. However, you can only enter with advanced notice and proper credentials, so be sure to obtain both if you wish to get inside.

Brandenburg Gate

We continued around the corner to the beautiful Brandenburg Gate. A former city gate, the Brandenburg gate was rebuilt in the late 18th century as a neoclassical triumphal arch. It has become one of the most well-known landmarks in Germany and is located in the western part of Berlin’s city center.

The gate suffered considerable damage in World War II and was inaccessible during the Berlin Wall’s use. It was fully restored in 2002. And one of the best things, of course, is that Little Luther had to be part of this historic visit!

Victory Column

We boarded the bus and traveled down the Unter Den Linden (main thoroughfare) through Berlin to view the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), Nikolai Quarter, and Potsdamer Platz on our way to the Victory Column.

The Victory Column sits in the middle of Berlin’s Tiergarten district. Atop the almost 61m high column, the larger-than-life bronze figure of the winged Victoria sits enthroned with a laurel wreath. The goddess of victory from Roman mythology, Berliners lovingly call her “Goldelse”. 

Designed by Heinrich Strack, it was finished in 1873 to memorialize the victories of Prussia in the German-Danish War in 1864, the German War in 1866, and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71.

Four fluted column drums rise up on a roundabout with pillars, which gradually taper upwards. The first three drums are decorated with 60 gun barrels that were captured in the three wars, now covered in gold plating. Climbing up inside the Victory Column is the best way to see a panorama of West Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie

Now located in the Allied Museum, “Checkpoint Charlie” was named by the Western Allies for this Berlin Wall crossing point. This is the location where Soviet and American tanks briefly faced off during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. This original sign still stands to mark the spot of crossing.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

On a site covering 19,000 square meters, New York architect Peter Eisenman placed 2711 concrete slabs of different heights to fully immerse yourself in the open spatial structure. The memorial is on a slight slope and its wave-like form is different wherever you stand.

Walking the uneven cobbled pavers and losing your bearings among the taller slabs gives many visitors feelings of uncertainty such as the Jews would have felt.

Its openness and abstractness give you space to confront the topic of the holocaust in your own personal way. It was one of the popular areas for spending a lot of time in personal reflection and remembrance of the horrors of war. People can sit on the slabs, but standing on them is against the law.

Berlin Wall Memorial

Constructed by East Germany on August 13, 1961, this wall completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany. Lined with guard towers, a death strip, and closely monitored checkpoints, the wall served to prevent massive emigration and defection of East Germans.

Our tour guide, Matthias, grew up in East Germany for over 20 years, where some of his family were separated from them in West Berlin. He describes it as a very dark period in his life, where even as a young boy he knew that what was happening was wrong. Everything was gray and sad with the absence of hope.

The wall was finally opened on November 9, 1989, to great applause and celebrations of freedom in Germany and around the world. By 1990, the wall had been completely destroyed except for a few sections saved for historical purposes as a reminder of the damage of divisiveness (like above). Double cobblestone pavers running through the middle of Berlin now mark where the wall used to stand.

This was our full day tour of Berlin, the capital of Germany! We had a wonderful time and were definitely ready to see our hotel rooms after a very busy day. God is so good!

On future visits, especially if it is your first time to Berlin, I would recommend including a beer garden, the Charlottenburg Palace, Jewish Museum, Holocaust Memorial, Hackescher Markt, Soviet War Memorial, and at least one UNESCO World Heritage site.

Giving Thanks on the Sea of Galilee

The crisp, clear morning air felt invigorating as our group of 35 pilgrims climbed aboard this old Israeli fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee last week.

Across the water on a distant hillside, we could see the city of Tiberias.

Along another shoreline, palm trees waved in the gentle breeze from the village of Magdala where Mary Magdeline lived.

We set sail on smooth waters and marveled at the 360 degree view of the very shores where Jesus performed so many miracles.

Some were overcome with emotion. Some could only grasp for words to convey their amazement. Some could not wipe the smile from their faces at the sheer joy of sailing where Jesus had sailed!

And we gave thanks.

I read portions from Matthew 14 where Jesus walked on water. Where Peter walked on water. Where Jesus rescued Peter even when Peter’s faith faltered in the storm.

As Scripture rang out over the glassy surface, we remembered how He had faithfully rescued each of us from storms, as well.

And we gave thanks.

We read where Jesus calmed frightening storms, swirling waters, and anxious hearts as His peace filled us to overflowing like those ancient boats overflowed with fish.

Teaching and reading Scripture from a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Nov. 2019

Then as worship music played, we praised God on the very water where God in the flesh had sailed.

We sailed past Bethsaida where Jesus fed the 5,000 with two small fish and five barley loaves and gave thanks that He fills for our every need. We glimpsed the temple ruins of Capernaum where Jesus taught near Peter’s home and gave thanks for His living and active Word.

JESUS.
HAD.
BEEN.
HERE.

Jesus sailed with us that very day on the boat.

By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us every moment of every day. Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving, take comfort that you are never alone.

His love never fails, never stops, and is never conditional. His unconditional love for us took Him all the way to the cross.

And for that beautiful truth, we give abundant thanks.

The Dead Sea, An Oasis, and Goats Galore

After six hectic tour days, today was truly a soul refreshing break. Strengthened by another delicious breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up the bus and headed toward our first stop: Ein Gedi.

Ein Gedi is a lush oasis in the middle of the Judean desert. After miles of desert and desert mountains, our eyes feasted on field after field of date palm trees (a successful cash crop here). Who knew these existed in such abundance here!

Ein Gedi literally means “the spring of the kid (young goat)” and we saw some of those goats almost immediately! These Ibex are wild and in abundance in these desert mountains, and it was such a treat to see them roaming wild!

Ein Gedi takes its name from a freshwater spring which flows from the rocks over 650 feet above the Dead Sea. When King Saul heard that David was in the vicinity of Ein Gedi, he gathered several thousand soldiers and hunted for David in these very caves. There’s a LOT of history in these caves.

It was in these very caves where David hid from Saul and wrote many of the Psalms (1 Samuel 23:29). We started out the day hiking up to the springs where David spent much of his wilderness time running from Saul.

The morning grew warm and the climb was not for the faint of heart, but we did it! The hidden springs along the way and shade toward the falls felt refreshing from the inside out. It felt like we climbed Mount Everest, so naturally we took a group victory picture!

From Ein Gedi, we headed through the desert to Qumran. This settlement was home to the Essenes, a devout set of Pharisees who moved out to Ein Gedi because they disapproved of many religious practices in Jerusalem. From here they wrote all of the Old Testament scrolls over and over by hand and sealed them in clay jars to faithfully preserve the Old Testament texts. The only book not found was Esther. The scrolls were discovered by a boy in 1947 and have verified the accuracy and reliability of Scripture. Hallelujah!

Then we headed to the Dead Sea! The saline content in the Dead Sea is 37%, which means no living organism can survive in it. The beautiful, panoramic view of the Dead Sea from the highway roads was truly stunning!

We finished this day refreshed and better acquainted as brothers and sisters in Christ. What a most perfect day!

Walking Through Old Town Jerusalem & Bethlehem

It’s hard to know where to begin when you travel through Jesus’ life in 10 hours. On this crisp 45 degree morning, we began at the Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem, which is built on Mount Moriah (the place believed to be where Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God).

Atop this Temple Mount stands the famous Gold Dome of the Rock. The morning sun glinted off of the gold-plated dome made it feel like it would burst into flame at any moment!

As we left the Temple Mount, we walked the Vio Dolorosa, the last steps that Jesus walked through Jerusalem toward Calvary. The route winds itself through the Old City of Jerusalem, starting at a school near the Lion’s Gate and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion).

The old streets bustled with people of many languages, shopkeepers hawking their wares, and street vendors offering a strand of beads for a few shekels. It was a sensory overload as vivid color and noise were everywhere – except inside the churches. There is a Lutheran Church in Old Town Jerusalem and it was fun to see Wayne behind the altar (even if it was only for pictures)!

The Via Dolorosa took us through the 14 stations of the cross where it was powerful to see the traditionally-held places where Jesus was condemned by Pilate, received His cross and then fell under its weight.

It seemed only fitting that such a spiritually meaningful journey ended at the Church of Holy Sepulchre. There has been a church on this site since 326 AD and is believed to be the location where Christ was crucified. Old Byzantine mosaic tiles and beautiful frescos were lit by dozens of suspended lanterns placed there by Christians, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches.

There was so much history and spiritually powerful meaning along this route that I could hardly catch my breath at times.

Finally, our group gathered at the Western Wall for a personal time of prayer and reflection. Some of us wrote out prayers on small pieces of paper and stuffed them into the cracks of the Wall as we prayed (a tradition there). Tears ran down my face as I prayed for the people and situations that God laid on my heart.

We walked out of Old Town of Jerusalem inspired, tired, and awed. Then it was time for Bethlehem! We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch upon arrival, then given a rare opportunity to see how olive wood is gathered and carved by hand and machines.

Naturally, a stop in the shop that produced those items was given! (That’s a post for a different day.) The angels made the announcement HERE! The shepherds heard the message HERE The star shone RIGHT HERE.

The Church of the Nativity sits just next to the Shepherds’ Hill Church, both honoring Jesus’ birth and the proclamation of the shepherds: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Luke 2:6-7

We are back at our hotel in Jerusalem for the evening, marveling at God’s grace, love and provision for each of us.