So it turns out Trailwalker is almost twice as far as Israel is wide. That meant any travel within Israel is short on time and relatively easy on the pocket.
Our 40km drive to Jerusalem was a quick, simple and air conditioned one. We shared a bus with several members of the Israeli Defence Forces, all of whom look about 18. That said, Israel must have the most attractive army in the world. However, that shouldn’t excuse their actions (without wanting to use this blog for politics).
We grabbed another public bus to take us to the old city of Jerusalem where we had arranged accommodation for the night. Our hostel is situated in the Armenian quarter of the old city and we have our own body-sized space on the rooftop. We are basically sleeping on the top of Jerusalem with views spanning all the wonderful sights that the city has to offer. We are woken in the morning by a combination of the call to prayer from the mosques around us and the blistering heat as the sun rises on the horizon.
Once we had taken our selfies on the rooftop we found a small Armenian cove to nap in before setting out in the old city. A recommendation led us beyond the city walls for dinner, to a place serving the finest hummus in Jerusalem.
Neither of us had really given hummus much of a chance at home, but we both now agree that we should. The hummus, falafel and pita combination in Houmus Ben Sira was to die for. It was a great authentic meal to introduce us to the city.
At this point we had to keep reminding ourselves where we were….Jerusalem. Up until I arrived in Israel Jerusalem had been nothing but a mythical land mentioned only in Holy Books and RE lessons. Yet, here I am in the holiest of all places.
After dinner we spent our first night on the rooftop. Contrary to our expectations and experiences in Tel Aviv, the nights get quite chilly here. This means we were forced to wrap ourselves in blankets that were probably never cleaned.
The experience of waking up on the rooftop of Jerusalem is something to remember. And as the sign rises early we were up and dressed in time to participate in another city walking tour. This time with a very enthusiastic American man. This particular tour was very interesting as it took us all around the old city of Jerusalem but without taking us inside the key sites. He shared a wealth of knowledge about the history and culture within the city which opened our eyes further to the significance of it as a city.
The old city is divided up into 4 quarters: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. For this reason if was perhaps too quick to refer to Tel Aviv as a melting pot, because Jerusalem is. If only they could all live in peace.
With a brain full of new knowledge about the city we could now explore it in depth ourselves. We spent the afternoon walking around the city.
Sam, an Australian girl from the hostel in Tel Aviv, added great extra company and introduced me to different areas of the city. Most amazing was the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice which stood high above the rest of the city. To listen to the Muslim prayer calls there was fantastic.
During the late afternoon a suicide attack occurred not far from where we were. A man drove a fork lift truck into a bus and killed one person. We heard 2 gunshots nearby which we guess was the army shooting the perpetrator. In fact, we heard a lot of conflict throughout the evening from our rooftops. No news reports told of any other casualties though.
Myself and James then spent the evening getting back on budget. We cooked our pasta on a gas stove and dropped in some pasta sauce. This created 4 meals (2 dinners and 2 lunches). We then sat back on the rooftops and enjoyed our meals with a beer, once again reminding ourselves exactly where we were.
The following morning we decided to make our way beyond the old city walls and visit the holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. In order to reach it we had to take the light railway and then a ridiculously short shuttle bus (about 100m).
Both of us have been to holocaust museums before so knew what to expect, but I don’t think you ever become desensitised to the atrocities of the people during the holocaust. We spent over 3 hours in the museum and tried to take in everything there. James naturally saw this as a good opportunity to gather additional teaching ideas, whereas I just enjoyed learning more about the history of the Jews.
We left the museum to a wall of heat and returned to the hostel in the old city for the lunch we prepared the previous evening. We then had the rest of the afternoon to explore the holy sights in more depth.
We initially headed to the Western (Wailing) Wall – the holiest place on Earth for Jewish people. Here we entered the side of the wall designated to men only and we provided with a kippur to wear it was a surreal scene as Orthodox Jews chanted verses from the Torah towards the wall and people gathered around each other to chant prayers together, some lead by young children. The Jews rock towards the wall as they pray and some just stand by it,often kissing the wall. As with the custom of the wall we both had pre-written messages to enter between the cracks in the wall with a wish or desire written upon it. There was something amazing about actually being able to touch the wall. A wall that millions of people see as their holiest place. It is certainly something we were both honoured to experience.
From one religion to another. We now headed to the Holy Sepulchre – the place where Christians believe Jesus died upon a crucifix and was then resurrected. The church itself is massive and also a place of conflict for the different Christian sub faiths.
When we first went in the headed towards the tomb of Jesus Christ. We were previously told that some people queue for up to 6 hours for a couple of moments in his tomb. There are no bones in the tomb but it is apparently where Jesus’ spirit is felt strongest and the place where he rose up from the dead. We didn’t have to queue at all, which was put down to the limited tourism in Israel during the current conflict.
We both entered the tomb and knelt in front if the shrine within. After about 30 seconds, both with our eyes shut and hands grasped in prayer a monk came in and told us our time was up. We had effectively been kicked out of Jesus’ tomb by a monk. I have visited temples, mosques and synagogues around the world, but never been given a time limit in any.
We next headed to the point where Christians believe Jesus was crucified. It was quite an eerie thought that I was potentially standing at the point where Jesus died. It seemed as though all the Christianity learning I experienced at school was about that moment.
It was now becoming dark so we headed for a meat based meal just beyond the city before returning the the hostel for some well earned rest.
Jerusalem had been a city like no other I’d ever visited. It was holy, yet there was an air of conflict all around: one street selling ‘Free Palestine’ t-shirts and another celebrating the Bombing of Gaza. Ultimately this conflict meant we were not able to visit Temple Mount and the Dome of Rock as it had been shut in protest. However, our time was well spent and we ticked so many of those life boxes.
Yet, with Bethlehem and Petra within days we certainly have even more opportunities to see some of the world’s most famous sights.