Travel To Jerusalem and See The World's Holiest City
The Western Wall and The Dome of The Rock
Escape to Jerusalem for a once in a lifetime experience!
In January 2013 I escaped my London life and headed for a week in Jerusalem. To get there I flew British Airways to Tel Aviv. On the plane I befriended a lovely couple from Tel Aviv, who gave me their business card in case I needed anything or if I got into trouble in Jerusalem. I think they though it was courageous of me to be travelling alone.
Arrival in Tel Aviv
I was extremely glad to have this friendly couple guide me through Tel Aviv Airport. Nothing is signposted in English, or if it is it gives you directions for a moment and then as you head around another bend there is no further guide. This was a feature of travel in Israel. A lack of signposting. There's a fortune to be made out here for people who manufacture signs!
Having travelled to Egypt and Turkey, I was expecting the usual display of incredulity at my long blonde hair, Western looks and status of being alone in my travels. I put on my "ice queen" demeanor and tried my best to look as if I knew what I was doing. I still got lost and ended up having to ask a taxi driver where the bus was. After offering me a ride for NIS$200, I said "No way" and walked off in a huff. He must have felt bad and ran after me to tell me where to find the Neshet taxi, which takes ten people at once to Jerusalem for NIS$62.
Christ Church Guest House
I just caught the Neshet taxi in time, and discovered that two people on it were also travelling to my accommodation; Christ Church Guest House, which is inside the old city at Jaffa Gate. You would imagine that there would be a plethora of accommodation inside the Old City, but there isn't. It is mainly a choice between low grade hostels, a very expensive Notre Dame Hotel or the Christ Church Guest House. I chose it on a whim and did not even have a confirmed booking, but I took the presence of two other guests in the taxi as a sign and soldiered on.
Jaffa Gate Old City Jerusalem
Half of the City is a Souk Market - Muslim Quarter
Jaffa Gate and The Ottoman Citadel or David's Tower
Lies, Lies and more Lies.
Most of the taxi drivers refuse to take you in to Jaffa Gate, this is because the police get cross and move them on and give them tickets.
Apparently this is just a pack of lies they tell tourists...
A very nice Jewish student who had been studying in the Old City as part of his London University degree was in the taxi, and promptly told the driver off and insisted he drive us all in. Temperatures were minus zero and it was 9pm at night, and three tired and weary travellers made it to the door of Christ Church Guest House trailing suitcases over the wonky cobbles and entering reception gladly.
There was a part of my mind that recalled experiences in Turkey and Egypt and the unfortunate, yet undeniable truth, that western tourists to countries like this are often told a bunch of lies about which direction to go, how beautiful they are, or how much something costs. I must keep my wits about me.
First Excursion - King David's Citadel
After a hearty breakfast at the guest house, and a comfortable and warm night in my single bed, no TV and rudimentary accommodation, I put on every item I owned and braved the zero temperatures and hurtling rain to climb King David's Citadel and Tower. Honestly, this sounds like madness, but they had an interior museum which told the history of the city very well, including all the different nations that have held Jerusalem as theirs over the past 5,000 years.
The most interesting parts were that the whole place has been utterly destroyed twice since Jesus was crucified and now we are all standing in a city that is only 500 years old. Mostly the original turf where Jesus would have walked and taught is 6 feet below you at any one time, and the whole place is built atop rock.
The other interesting part was that I almost got blown off the tower top as I was eagerly taking photos of the city.
What tribe are you?
And did I mention the "peace"? You feel as if you are on some kind of peace drug the moment you set foot in the place. The other unusual thing about Jerusalem is that everyone identifies themselves to you by religion, not race. Are you Jewish, Christian or Muslim? This is pretty much the start of every conversation as it is important to know what to say or do, how to address people and tread eggshells so that you are respectful to all of the cities' inhabitants.
It is more difficult to tell Christians and Muslims apart but just assume everyone remotely Arabic looking, and manning the souk stalls is Muslim and you will probably get that right. Christians tend to be from all over the world, many wearing kerchiefs on their heads and stopping randomly to kiss stones or press themselves up to some holy site or another. Pretty easy to spot as most are on a pilgrimage.
The Jewish inhabitants either have the black outfits, curly hair and hats on, or wear a skullcap. The Jewish ladies all have lovely long flowing hair and conservative dresses on or trousers. The Muslim ladies wear the habib mostly and long wrapped gowns.
Interior of King David Citadel Museum Ruins
Quirky Old City Do's and Don'ts
What I learned on Day 1
Don't freak out about The Call To Prayer. It is played for ages and many times a day, and is broadcast very loudly. The only escape is to head to the Jewish Quarter or the Armenian Quarter as they don't have loudspeakers there.
Don't look to the heavens expecting a comet to crash. It is the sound of the bells of The Holy Sepulchre, the Holiest church for Christian pilgrims, where Jesus is said to have been crucified. These bells ring out regularly and for a long time, and it ain't Big Ben. They sound like some kind of rustic Science Fiction soundtrack signalling the end of time and they are really, REALLY loud!
Don't get drunk. To be honest, if you are expecting to find a rustic bar with Israel beers you will be hard pressed. The closest we found was the Armenian Tavern which would let us have a few beers together and we didn't have to eat there. There was a lack of stag/hen and big parties of Western tourists on the lash in Jerusalem. I wonder why? All the holy sites and respect for religion perhaps? I'm telling you, this town is unique and incredibly interesting to experience.
Do - get some holy-ness. You must open yourself up to your beliefs here. I found myself climbing under altars after queueing to touch a rock that beheld the cross of Christ, touching His tombstone, and bowing down at the spot where the Virgin Mary was born. I felt like I'd been injected with enough Holy Spirit to last me all year. So of course, I went back a few times for more!
Do - as much sightseeing as you can. It is worth learning about the history of the city, the geology of the area, the cultures and where people lived and where they live now, and the Jewish religion in particular. I've never really learned much about Judaism, and not many schools teach it well, so I enjoyed learning all about the Jewish faith. You can easily spend a week in the Old City Jerusalem, and the surrounding attractions in the New City.
I'll write more in my next article to follow!