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I first went to Jerusalem at the age of 19 and although I haven't been back since, I hope to go again one day. I travelled there with a company called McCabe travel that specialises in running pilgrimages to the Holy Land but was lucky enough to have my place paid for by McCabe (as I was travelling with someone who works as a Guide for McCabe). I took this trip in about 2004 and I believe the cost of a week's tour of Israel (including a few days in Jerusalem) was about £1000 for the other people who were paying. This did include, though, your flights, your accommodation, all your meals and bus travel and guides to take you around Israel.
Of course, Israel in general is in a state of unrest and a lot of this turmoil is centred around Jerusalem. Three major religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) have invested interests in the city and there can be a lot of tension. You will see people carrying guns and you will see soldiers and there is a risk of terrorism/bombs etc. It is best to always check travel guidance before travelling and to travel with a group and a guide wherever possible.
I visited in the last week of October and it was very warm. I'm not sure if this is entirely typical, though, as apparently they were having a bit of an Indian summer the year I visited. The heat was quite humid and stifling, though, and I hate to think what it would have been like in the middle of the summer!
We arrived in Jerusalem during Ramadan and started to unpack at the hotel. No one, however, had told us that a cannon situated behind our hotel would go off at sundown to mark the end of fasting for the day and as we merrily unpacked and then heard a loud bang, we all had a bit of a momentary panic. We had a few guides. The trip itself was being run and guided by an Anglican cannon named Paul who had been to Israel many times before and most of the people in the group were members of his church. He was going to be doing a lot of the leading of the group, taking us to places to visit and holding church services for us.
We also had, however, a man from McCabe travel who was based in Jerusalem who stayed with us for our time in Jerusalem and another guide named Oliver came with us each day on the bus. He was French but with British parents and had moved to Jerusalem when he married a Jewish girl who lived there and was fluent in Hebrew. He guided us around many of the sites giving us historical information.
On the first night, we all went en masse to a high vantage point to look out over the city. A very insistant Arab with a camel decided to follow us offering us camel rides (much to the dismay of an older woman in the group who had somehow became convinced that camels gave you syphillis)! We then went into the old part of Jerusalem. Our hotel was situation in between Herod's gate and the Damascus gate and we entered the city through the Damascus gate. It was dark outside and the Islamic revellers were out in force celebrating the end of fasting for the day, letting off fire-crackers and generally being in fine spirits. It was a bit of a manic circus and if I hadn't been part of a group, I think I'd have felt a bit intimidated.
We walked round parts of the Old City, taking backstreets as well as more main routes since we had two people with us who were very familiar with the city, before heading back to the hotel.
Obviously, Jerusalem is a city steeped in religion and so the majority of the sites of interest here are religious sites. Early the next morning, we headed off to walk the Via Dolorosa (The way of sorrow) which is the path Jesus is meant to have carried the cross down. We visited the Wailing Wall (which is part of the remnants of the great Jewish temple that was destroyed in AD 70). The wailing wall has to be accessed through a security check point due to terrorist activity in the area. Also, if you are a female, you will only be allowed access to a tiny portion of the wall but it is best to follow the rules no matter how much of an ardent feminist you are! We visited the beautiful church of Dominus Flevit (Jesus wept) that looks out over the city and is small but perfectly formed into a tear drop shape. We visited the Mount of Olives for views over the city and we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is meant to be built on the site where Jesus was crucified and also contains the place where Jesus was buried.
As for the city itself, we obviously spent a lot of time in the Old City and I am certain that the newer part of the city is undoubtedly more like a normal modern city but the beauty of the Old City lies in the fact that it feels almost untouched by history.
When you enter in the Damascus gates and see all the stalls and vendors vying for your attention and smell the herbs and spices for sale, it really feels like you've entered the scene of a film. I think tourism for most of the sellers isn't as reliable as it once was due to all the troubles and terrorism and when I was there, some of the vendors and shop owners were truly desperate and trying to get you to buy something or enter their shop was not just them being greedy but them genuinely struggling to make a living. We saw quite a few tears and shop keepers begging us to come in and obviously, it just isn't possible to buy from everyone, so it was quite sad.
I was advised as a young, Western female to not go anywhere myself in Jerusalem and when I did get get split from my group by accident at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I foolishly decided to turn down the kind offer of a Greek Orthodox priest to walk me back to my hotel and decided I was a big girl who could take care of myself. Well, very soon, walking down the Via Dolorosa on my own, I instantly regretted that decision! It was a very intimidating experience and when a passing priest saw the terror on my face and offered to walk me home, I definately did not turn down an offer like that again!
Technically, the currency is the shekel. I don't know if things have changed since I was there but when I travelled there you weren't able to get shekels here and take them over with you. You had to get them over there. My hotel did have a currency exchange facility but, to be honest, they seemed to accept anything and in fact, seemed to prefer Sterling or Dollars to shekels. I'm not sure whether that has changed since the global economic crisis, however. It was quite hard to keep a track of your money, though, because of this. For example, I saw an item in a shop that I wanted to buy. The price on the item was in shekels but I didn't have any on me at the time, so asked if I could pay in Sterling. The man in the shop was happy to accept Sterling and gave me my change in US Dollars! So if you go, make sure you have a good mathematical brain, or a reliable currency convertor! There were occassionally people on the street trying to exchange money, also, and although in Europe you would steer well clear of these sorts of people, our guides in Israel actually advised us that these street exchangers usually offered a better rate of exchange than the hotels.
Would I go Back?
I love travelling and have been to quite a few places but Israel was truly magical and I would love to go back at some point! However, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable going there without being part of an organised group. Of course, there is a huge religious aspect to Jerusalem and Israel. I am religious so this didn't bother me but I imagine atheists would find it quite annoying! Also, there are a lot of myths and legends associated with the place where people say Jesus might had done this or been there etc. and a lot of it has to be taken with a very large grain of salt but this is part of the charm of the place, in a way.
Jerusalem is a super religious city and the most important to Christians & Jews and also important to Arabs. It's a hilly place that is usually a bit chillier than the coastal destinations, in fact it rained quite a lot when I was there and they do occasionally have snow. Arriving at the bus station from Tel Aviv we arrived at the bottom of the bus station and had to go through baggage checks and screening as there was a shopping mall there. I've heard from other foreigners that it's not necessary to go through these but it certainly seemed so in Jerusalem and I couldn't spot an alternative route.
Apart from the huge queues near the bus station. I was quite surprised how quiet Jerusalem was, I expected it to be as hectic as big neighbour Cairo. With a small population of 1 milion, it's not too surprising although there was a noticeable military presence everywhere and a lot of tourists - in particular Russian, American and Polish. This may have cooled off now since the recent outbreak of war in Gaza.
I'm not religious in any way as you may have guessed by the abundance of metal reviews, so I was mainly there out of curiosity. As one of the oldest cities in the world and with so much history it was defintiely worth visiting. I only spent a day there which contradicted the rest of my itinerary as I had much longer stays in other places except Haifa. I did however get a good 7 hours march around the city, getting lost along the cobbled alleyways and only stopping to try various nuts and some baklava at a market and later some felafels from a cheap snack place near Damascus Gate. There was a huge queue inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre supposedly the place of Jesus' crucifixtion and cave burial. I had a quick nosy and it was quite packed, I'm not a fan of churches and this was no different. What I did find amusing and in some ways sad were the tourists squabbling over their position in the queue - heathens!
When it comes to buying felafels - it is normally 3 to 5 shekels just to sit down so if you are on a tight budget make sure you take it away. The one near Damascus Gate is by no means the best but it's definitely passable and for 6 shekels, you can't really turn your nose up.
The old centre of Jerusalem is quite picturesque albeit tourist laden, there's a great deal of souvenir shops that will do anything to make a buck, it's one place where you can witness t-shirts with Free Palestine on one side of teh shop and "America Don't Worry, Israeli is Behind You" written on the ones opposite.
Budget accomodation isn't too dear, there are some cheap Arab ran hostels near Damascus Gate which I've heard are a little grubby but passable for 40-50 shekels a night. I stayed with a German guy from Couchsurfing.com and the community in the city is quite active, so that may be worth checking out.
My favourite part of my visit to Jerusalem was the exoticness of visting a completely ultra-orthodox area of which I don't know the name and can't seem to work it out from looking at maps! The streets are clean and look a bit old-fashioned, a large family starts after 13 children, the majority (didn't get to meet all of them lol) were Hasidic Jews from Belarus, Ukraine and Poland and apparently haven't changed a great deal or at all in recent centuries and thus remain the real deal. Wearing silk like robes and furry hats (Shtreimel), their plats swinging - they looked quite the sight. There were large signs at the entrance to the neighbourhood saying that they despised tour groups, so I wouldn't recommend taking out your camera as tempting as it is. Also make sure you are dressed correctly as an Israeli friend of mine (a girl) was close to this area with a top that showed a small amount of shoulder and she was stoned by local women etc.
The craziest part of my visit to this neighbourhood was that it was Friday and I arrived there just as Shabat was beginning, so a huge siren went off in the neighbourhood followed by people hurrying around (later I discovered to the synagogue or home).. I had no idea what was going on and thought a war was starting! The siren was followed up by traditional Jewish music and loud vocals.. surely a rabbi or something but it sounded like a recording to me. Wandering around at that time, as interesting as it was didn't seem all together safe and I got a lot of vicious stares which didn't make me feel altogether comfortable.. cars passing through this area during shabat are likely to be stoned. Interesting area, pretty hardcore area with not a secular Jew in sight.
Jerusalem is pretty unique, apart from the tourist filled centre where people jump off by the bus load, the city seems to have quite a tense feeling and there's not many places like it, with an exciting mixture of friction and history. I wouldn't like to live there though, seemed more of a place to visit than a place to have fun and I imagine the night life is comparable to chewing on a wet sock.
At the end of May my husband and I stayed in Tel Aviv for two days and then moved on to Jerusalem for six days, it takes 50 minutes to get there by car. The heat wave we had encountered on our arrival was still going strong but it was much better to endure in Jerusalem whose hills are 800m above sea level, humidity is only about 40% there, sometimes even less.
We set out in the afternoon to get a first glimpse of the Old City, the historical and religious heart of Jerusalem. Our hotel was near the Damascus Gate, one of the eight gates (of which seven are still in use) of the old city wall built in the first half of the 16th century under the Ottoman Suleyman the Magnificent, it's 12 m high and 4 km long (one can walk on top of it) encircling the Old City which we found surprisingly tiny, only 1 km across from side to side (about 30 000 people live there!) The Damascus Gate is the most impressive one, it leads into the Muslim Quarter, one of the four quarters the Old City is divided into, the others are the Christian, the Jewish and the Armenian ones.
Already in front of the gate we had seen people squatting on the ground selling fruit and vegetables and household products, when we had stepped through, we were on an oriental bazaar, a mixture of open shops selling meat, shoes, cake, electronic things, spices, jeans, you name it. Nobody minded us, the shop-keepers didn't address us in our mother tongues and try to lure us into their shops.
It was stifling hot and suffocating in the narrow alleyways, we had hardly stepped in when we felt we had to get out as quickly as possible. I heard a muezzin and suggested we go into the mosque to be able to breathe freely again for a while, what happened, though, was that we suddenly found ourselves in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over the spot where Jesus Christ is said to have been crucified and buried.
We stepped in and found ourselves in an unbearable sauna, this was not a place to get some breath! But not only because of the heat, this is the most puzzling church I've ever seen and I've seen many in my life as a traveller.
Following his conversion to Christianity, the Roman Emperor Constantine ordered in about 325/326 that the site of the crucifixion and the burial place be uncovered and a church be built there (his mother Helena is credited with the rediscovery of the Cross), the church was destroyed and rebuilt several times through the millenia, it got several annexes and has now a structure difficult to understand and explore for the unguided visitor.
Today the primary custodians are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic churches. In the 19th century, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox acquired lesser responsibilities, which include shrines and other structures within and around the building. Times and places of worship for each community are strictly regulated in common areas. But alas, although they're all Christians serving the Lord who preached love and peace they've repeatedly got into fights (the last fist-fight occurred in 2004!), since 1192 a Muslim family has the guardianship and the key to the church, a wise decision.
One has to climb up some steep stairs to get to the part where the cross is said to have stood, it's a Greek Orthodox chapel now, the most lavishly decorated part of the whole church, gold and silver everywhere. When we were there, an old woman was crouching under the altar built over the spot cleaning and refilling the oil lamps, I'm sure she'll get straight to heaven for her pious work!
We are not pious but we were shocked nevertheless by what we found, all the different Christian creeds claiming to be the right ones, fighting over trivialities, outdoing each other with luxurious ornaments, shame on them all! What would Jesus think about this place? We're not alone with our sentiments, I found this in Robert Stone's novel 'Damascus Gate': "Like many visitors, they had been unnerved by the inimitable creepiness of the Holy Sepulchre, a grimly gaudy, theopathical Turkish bathhouse where their childhood saints glared like demented spooks from every moldering wall."
We moved on or rather drifted through the maze of twisty alleyways, there are no visible boundaries between the four quarters, until we came to an airport-like checkpoint, we had reached the entrance to the Western Wall, aka Wailing Wall. What we see nowadays is the section of the Western supporting wall of the Temple Mount which has remained intact since the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple by the Romans (70 BC). The place in front of the wall serves as a synagogue, it has been accessible for Jews only after Israel captured the Old City in 1967, at times tens of thousands of people gather there for prayer, men and women prey separately, a fence divides them.
When we were there it was just an ordinary day with not too many people. We sat there for a long time taking in the atmosphere, watching orthodox Jews with curls in long black robes and black hats rushing to and fro. They never seem to walk slowly and obviously love talking into their mobile phones. We were fascinated by men wearing hats the size of scooter wheels the 'tyres' made of fox fur, remember the heat wave I mentioned?
Our first encounter with Jerusalem was an assault on the mind and the senses! Would it have been wiser to start at the Jaffa Gate with the Citadel Museum offering a well-made overview of the history of Jerusalem? We went there at the end of our stay when we had already seen and learnt a lot, the exhibition served as a kind of summary then. No, I think this unplanned plunge into the Old City was just the right thing to do because Jerusalem *is* an assault on the mind and the senses!
Three religions living together, all eager to be as near as possible to their holy sites and unfortunately always ready to fight for them. Yerushalayim, as Jerusalem is called in Hebrew, means 'place of peace'. If only! In the course of history it has endured thirty-six wars and has been destroyed more than a dozen times.
For the Muslims the Dome of the Rock is the third holy site after Mecca and Medina, it's situated above the Western Wall, the following day we got to it through another check-point. Passing the al-Aqsa Mosque we came to an elevated plateau with the wonderful Dome covered with coloured tiles and crowned by the golden dome. We read that when it still belonged to Jordan, King Hussein sold a palace to have the dome restored and covered with new gilded copper plates.
I love Islamic art and looked forward to visiting the Dome of the Rock where Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son and from where Mohammed ascended to heaven on his horse according to the holy texts, alas, it was closed. My husband tried to bribe the guard but in vain, no entry for tourists.
Two people told us later that they had been inside only some days before and advised us to go there in the morning, but we were there in the morning. Someone else explained that the Muslims were afraid of terrorist attacks by militant orthodox Jews and had closed the Dome for visitors, or rather had no regular visiting hours any more, now there are only irregular opening times to puzzle potential terrorists. So we could only sit on the wall surrounding the vast area in whose middle the Dome is situated admiring it from afar. With us were about ten other tourists, wonderful!
We had seen the most important sites already in the first two days, what did we do the rest of the time? We love going back to places that have impressed us, to see a site again, to linger around it, to just sit and look. Even if we have only some days, we manage to get a homely feeling for a place, we like it when we recognise people we've seen before.
On the second day we discovered a restaurant in the Jewish Quarter (Keshet Gina's Place, 2, Tiferet Israel St) to which we returned every day, we liked the food there and befriended a waitress who when she had nothing to do came over and chatted with us. It was obviously the period of days-out for school-children, we could see them every day, each group accompanied by a grown-up at the front and at the end carrying a rifle or a machine-gun. I thought they were the teachers and imagined myself walking with my pupils armed like this but the waitress told us that they were guards, everyone who had done military service could be such a guard. Military service is obligatory for young men, they have to serve for three (!) years, it's voluntary for young women, if they do it, it's two years for them.
Did we feel safe in Israel? Surprisingly, we did, never have we seen so many armed people, soldiers everywhere, they have to carry their arms with them even when off duty. We got the feeling that the state did everything possible to give the population a feeling of safety. As the world has learned, terrorist attacks can't be foreseen, they're successful because of the surprise moment. Another aspect is that Jerusalem is rather a safe city generally; Seattle, USA, has roughly the same number of inhabitants (~720 000) as Jerusalem but a murder rate seven times higher.
Are all attractions concentrated in the Old City? Most of them, yes, but immediately outside rises a hill with the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus walked with his disciples, its western slope is covered by a large Jewish cemetery, orthodox Jews are convinced that the Messiah will come there when he comes and they're willing to pay 30 000 $ and more for a tomb to be near him on the great day.
Two excellent museums help to understand the history of Israel and the Jews, the wonderful Israel Museum with a superb archaeological wing and the Shrine of the Scrolls where the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls are exhibited, the oldest manuscripts of the Bible that have been found and Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum. I can't imagine a better way of presenting what happened during the Third Reich, it's spine-chilling, but the question that interested me most, the WHY?, why was it possible for a civilised people to fall into barbarianism remains unanswered here, too.
So much heavy stuff, I yearned for a counterweight, where was modern Jerusalem, the centre where people meet and go shopping? We were sent to Ben Yehuda St which has been turned into a pedestrian precinct. I was underwhelmed, so much so that I went into a book shop and asked if that was indeed the main shopping centre of Jerusalem. It was! We felt as if we were in the centre of a European provincial town some decades ago, amazing, incredible! The many pushy beggars, mostly elderly Orthodox Jews and religious fanatics preaching to the passers-by were something we hadn't expected in the main shopping area, either.
The only chain store is a shabby Diesel Jeans shop, the other shops offer suitcases and rucksacks, religious items, souvenirs, sun-glasses, cosmetics made from Dead Sea salt and other cheap items, there wasn't one trendy clothes or shoe shop. But then the people milling around or sitting in the (modest) cafés aren't trendy, either, fashion and style don't seem to concern the average Jerusalemite.
Of course, there are secular Jews but their number is dwindling, with an average birth rate of six (!) children per family, the ultra-orthodox population is surging, today roughly 30% of the city's 420 000 Jews are ultra-Orthodox, as are 50% of the school-children.
On the way to the museums we had passed an area with expensive houses, the taxi-driver told us that politicians and other famous people lived there. Where do they spend their money, where do they go shopping? After some asking around someone came up with the name Malcha Mall and - Tel Aviv! I didn't want to see a mall and we had just come from Tel Aviv, so the questions remain unanswered.
Jerusalem is not beautiful like Rome, has no famous monuments like Paris, isn't trendy like London or cosy like Copenhagen, what it has to offer is palpable history and religion, if you have a feeling for this, you'll find it one of the most fascinating destinations.
Psalm 122,6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
P.S. If you feel like leaving a comment, please comment on my review and not on the current political situation in Israel as this is a travel report and not a contribution to Speakers Corner.
Jerusalem was not quite the religious centre I expected, more of a flea market in a dusty town. Anticipation grew as I sat in the coach for the 2-hour coach journey from Haifa to Jerusalem. Not being religious, but more inquisitive, as the stories from my R.E. lessons stood firmly in my mind. I quietly hummed the tune to Jerusalem, as many a rugby fan would, as the coach pulled into the designated parking spot, alongside some 50 to 100 other coaches. Here we were met by a guide who was rather Jolly and reminded me of a character from it aint half hot mum, more than a figure of great knowledge. We were taken to a small building where Jesus was alleged to have lived for a while, but were then told that he may not have as scientists and historians could not agree where he lived. We were then taken to another building, but were denied entry as it was of sacred importance? The guide spent most of his time telling us about his views on where and how Jesus lived, and then went on to disagree with himself! After an hour of traipsing through small alleys, pausing only to stop at certain ?designated? shops on the way. A friend and I decided it was time to escape. We sneaked off and went for a tour of the local market. Hostile is not the word, hold on to your wallets like it?s a cork in a whirlpool! The inhabitants are a bit rough and boisterous to say the least. After looking at many interesting carpets and T-shirts saying I Love Jerusalem! we hiked over to the whaling wall. At last, a place that did live up to its reputation. You could sense the strong draw it had on the religious followers who had made this their Pilgrimage. We could not get very close, as some people had been killed there only a few days earlier by some religious fanatic. All in all, Jerusalem has a lot of old and authentic buildings, but has been abused by the commercial eleme
nt of the money seekers. I guess this was the last place I would expect to see cheap T-shirts and the like. Only for the die-hard religious believers, not really for the idle curious.
Immediately one mentions 'Jerusalem' a whole gamut of emotions may be experienced. It is more than a city, it is almost a sense of history encapsulated within a geographical boundary. No city has possibly been the source of so much bloodshed, hatred and heartache, but above all, even today, it is an experience to be both enjoyed and endured. I have been a few times, and worked on a kibbutz for three months which was close to Jerusalem, and have visited both the east and west sections but it is a city that remains always beyond my comprehension, and always will. The history of Jerusalem is too expansive for me to do her justice, but it is a city which, in every sense, cannot escape her history. Jerusalem lies in the hills of Judea, making it one of the cooler parts of Israel and the region, but it can get very hot in the summer so don't let this fool you! It is just that other places in Israel are even warmer! There are many divisions in Jerusalem, the East being a part of the West Bank, populated predominately by Palestinian Arabs (although there is a notable community of Christian Arabs) and the Western part of Jerusalem is the jewish, westernised section. There is also the division between the Old City and the New City. The Old City is a specific part of Jerusalem which is bounded by the city walls and is the part which most people think of when considering her. Within the Old City, there are the four quarters, the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter (nominally Russian Orthodox) and the Islamic Quarter. The walls of this city contain more museums, churches, places of Historic Interest, than many nations combined. The Temple Mount is one of the most controversial and predominance spots in the old city, with the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Asqa Mosques sitting on the mountain, one gold, the other silver. The Temple Mount remains the second-holiest pla
ce in the world for Muslims and great importance to jews and to christians as it was the place where the Jewish Temples stood. The Western (or Wailing) Wall, stands in front of the Temple Mount, the holiest place for Jews as it is the only remaining part of the Temple. It is traditional to leave little prayers in rolled up paper between the bricks, if you go there, you will see this has been done. There are seperate parts to go to for men and women and it helps to dress appropriately, although there are people giving out head coverings for men and shawl-things to cover bare shoulders for women. In the Christian Quarter and the Muslim Quarter there are markets, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and little plaques marking the stations of the cross. There is David's Tomb and a little house (one of the few non-religious museums) which displays the archeological finds on that particular spot. I can't remember the name but the english translation is the burnt house and it is fascinating, as a sociological history. The Cardo is the old Roman market, excavated now, and lying in the Jewish Quarter, and an exceptionally impressive excavation it is too! I could continue for a few more thousand words with things that there are in the old city herself, and except advising a walking tour of the walls, I'll move on! The 'modern' part of Jerusalem, the city centre, so to speak is based around Ben-Yehuda Street, the Oxford Street of Jerusalem with many of the modern shops (even kosher McDonalds!) that one finds in many cities. It is here that the nightlife is centred and the israelis do like a good party! The Israel Museum, a fair bus ride away, is worth a visit, it houses the Dead Sea Scrolls in a special building and is next to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament building. As for overall impressions, it is easier than to describe different spots. There is nowhere in the world
like Jerusalem. That is both a good thing, and a bad thing. The people are relatively friendly, so long as you detach from the politics, which is it becoming increasingly hard to do. As for transport, the buses are frequent and usually take you where you need to go, most things are signposted in English and it is not hard to find people to understand you! It is somewhere that should be visited though, because however long I wrote for, I would never be able to explain how it feels to be in Jerusalem. It is trying to be a modern city, it has nightclubs, bars, great felafel and frozen ice cream, but the history weighs too heavy on her shoulders and she is unable to escape her past.
Nothing can compare you for your first sight of Jerusalem. Brought to life are stories you had been told from childhood. Travel along the Road of Courage and take in the awe-inspiring view. We went through Dung Gate into the old city and discovered plenty more holy sites. The Wailing Wall was tremendous. Watching people kiss the wall and push written prayers into cracks anywhere they could find. Prayers were being chanted everywhere and hundreds of people milling about. Not for anyone who doesn’t like crowds. Later we went into Bethlehem and a visit to the multi-denominational church of the Nativity. All in all a totally unforgettable and humbling experience. I’m glad I’ve seen all these sights but I wouldn’t particularly want to return.
It's a few years since i visited Jerusalem, in fact i was still at school, but the memories have always stayed with me. It's a mixture of old and new,rich and poor,peace and war, the only city in the world that i've visited were i felt all these things at once. On the one hand you've got people litterely living on top of each other in squalid tin and wooden shelters,on a hill side that looks like on good downpour of rain would wash there very exsitance away with there belongings. Then there's the rich oppulant splendour of the churches and most of the religious sites. Yet all around not only is there reminders if the past histories and stories that these buildings and narrow streets hold, but also the very modern image of the fighting that goes on around here regularly, funnily though you don't feel threatened by it (unless it was just youthfull nievity) soldiers with machine guns pass by regularly and are happy to pose for photo's. Jets roar overhead to remind you of the conflict that burns in this center of religion. You don't have to be religious to appreciate the history of this beautiful place though.From the believers who gather daily at the remains of the wall, that once fortified this place from marauding Roman soldiers, to place there prayers within the gaps and cracks and hope for a brighter future, to the peddlers and street traders bartaring with tourists for there money. The Atmosphere is unique and if you close your eyes and let your imagination wonder, all the stories that youv'e read or heard become a little bit more believable, whether you are a believer or not, and i don't consider myself religious, but there must be some truth in all that history.
Now, this might sound strange, but I actually felt homesick for Jerusalem when I left. It is the strangest place I have I have ever visited, and I as soon as I left, I wanted to be back there. I stayed in a public hostel while I was there and I was amazed at the number of people who seemed to have visited Jerusalem and just stayed. It would seem that it is a place to which people gravitate and it is certainly not just religious people who go there either; it is a haven for aging-hippies and Net-addicts I discovered. Strangely enough, Jerusalem is where I was introduced to the Internet (and incredibly strong pot). Sat up in the hostel one night, I met a British writer who had gone on holiday eight years previously, had taken a short trip home, sold up and moved out there. I can see how it could have that effect on you. This man only had one arm from the elbow down because he had accidentally knocked and set off a bomb with a bag he was carrying. He said that people in Jerusalem accept violence as a price to pay to live in the most beautiful city in the world. He told me that when a bomb goes off in Jerusalem, people will be back out the streets half an hour later. He had incredible fortitude (the dope I think) and I often wonder what he's doing now. UPDATE:- That part seems oddly and unsettlingly relevant after the recent violence. I am so glad that I got the chance to visit this incredible place before the troubles started again in earnest. I only hope that the friends I made are alright and that the city calms down again soon, so that I can go and see the parts which I missed. That sounds a bit selfish doesn't it - I also want peace so no more people get hurt. I can identify with what's been said in the other opinions about the tension there, but I actually liked that about the city. I'm not religious, but am very interested in history and it was fascinating to see so many different kinds of p
eople and cultures mixing. The tourist sights were incredible also, but that was what I particularly didn't like about the city. I found the people who were in charge of them to be rude and pushy, but maybe that's a natural reaction to having hordes of camera-toting tourists invading your holiest-of-holies (it certainly pissed a few people off when it was tried in the 11th century!). The teenagers with guns (soldiers) were extremely friendly and I was actually apologised to by a group of them for them not speaking English - I can't imagine that happening in this country. At first I found the guns to be intimidating, but I found out later that they have to carry them with them everywhere, because if they lose them, they go to prison for 7 years. It gets to be quite amusing having to ask someone to move their rifle so you can sit down, especially when the person you are asking is a young woman only half the size of her weapon. UPDATE:- Now that I am in the TA and have fired rifles like the ones they carry, I find it quite disturbing again to think of how much damage someone with a weapon like that could do if they were having a bad day. Sadly, I suppose they have far greater things to worry about at the moment. The contrast between the security of weapons in this country's armed forces and in Israel is interesting. We have to get permission from the local civil authorities to carry our weapons (on training exercises) outside barracks, and that is without ammunition. Again, I can't imagine letting 18 and 19 year-olds loose on a Friday night round town with loaded rifles. Night life in Jerusalem is bizarre. I saw no trouble and apparently this is normal. But when there is trouble, it's not just a fist fight. The soldiers everywhere actually made me feel safer, because although they carry their guns when off duty, they were extremely relaxed and good-natured. The only trouble with goi
ng out in Jerusalem is the cost of the drinks (£5 for a shot of Jack Daniels). I believe this is because of import tax. There were some local brews which were not as expensive. If you go, make sure you check out the siouk (market) and don't be suprised if the people in there get a bit personal when you try to barter. It's not that they don't want you to, they just know that the British and American tourists get embarrassed and pay more than they need to if they do this (a Restauranteur told me this). Simply throw back any abuse or dirty looks they throw at you. In the siouk, I had the bemusing experience of having money thrown back at me by a beggar. I call him a beggar, but he was better dressed than I was. He said he had 4 children to support, so I gave him some money (about £1). He looked at me in disgust and said it wasn't enough, but I stood my ground. He threw the money and went and hassled some Americans. You can draw your own conclusions from this, but it illustrates that this is not a culture at all like ours (except for the hassling of Americans part). There are a great many different cuisines to try as well - we had Armenian for the first time - and as with all of Israel, the food is superb. Whilst I am on food, falafel, falafel, falafel! Forget ambrosia, this is the food the god's were eating (at least the Middle-Eastern ones). They serve this everywhere (cue clichéd 'fish and chips' metaphor) and it comes in a warm pitta with chips and salad and some kind of yoghurt sauce. The only time I have had fast-food as good as this was in Amsterdam (where you get you know, the munchies quite a lot) and that was, guess what, falafel! Jerusalem is a vibrant, mixed-bag of a city and I would recommend anyone who is in the area to visit it or miss out on the experience of a lifetime. UPDATE:- Err...actually, that's possibly not the best advice in the world at the moment. Per
haps you should try Ibiza this year, Israel next.
Jerusalem is a strange place, for me it epitomises the world soul. A place of pilgrimage for three world religions yet there is no sense of peace only unease. The city might be divided into 'quarters' but as far as politics and religion is concerned there are far more divisions than that. Initial impressions include: Hasidic Jews scurrying past trying to avoid being touched by the 'unclean' with eyes fixed firmly on the ground, teenage gun toting soldiers lounging around menacingly and in the Muslim quarter determined Arabs approaching continually to buy their stuff. It seems almost impossible to know quite who is who and what to do in order not to offend someone or another. This, however, is the outside face of Jerusalem to a visitor if you are lucky enough to have friends there it can be different. The main tourist attractions include the Western 'wailing' wall (Jewish), the Dome of the Rock (Muslim), and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Christian). There are many more depending on your interests but they are nearly all either religious or historical. With a keen interest in both, Jerusalem attracts me like a magnet but only the historical interest is satisfied there. The Western Wall is a remnant of the ancient city of Jerusalem and the last Jewish Temple which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. during the war with the Jews. After this the Jews were excluded from their holy city but were allowed to return once a year to mourn the destruction of the Temple and this is why it was known as the ‘Wailing ‘ wall. It became the symbol of Jewish faith that they would once more dwell in their city. Now known as the western Wall it is still a place of prayer and pilgrimage and is perhaps best known for the custom of writing prayers on pieces of paper which are then pushed into gaps in the wall. The wall area is divided into separate areas for men and women and although tourists are permitted in
to to relevant area if suitably dressed I think it is intrusive to stand and stare or take photos when people are devoutly praying. The dome of the Rock, called by Muslims ‘the Noble Sanctuary’, glistens like a jewel amidst the stones of Jerusalem. It was the first Moslem sanctuary to be built and after Mecca and Medina is Islam’s third place of pilgrimage. It is purported to have been built because Mohammed is believed to have made his ascent to heaven from here but the site is very contentious as it stands on the actual site of the Jewish Temple and the Holy of Holies. The Church of the holy Sepulchre is the reputed place of the death and burial of Jesus and as such has been the centre of pilgrimage for countless Christians since Queen Helena identified it as the place in 326 CE. Considering just how many devout people have visited this church over the centuries one would have expected to get a sense of being in a special holy place. But no - quite to the contrary it leaves you as cold as the stone which surrounds you. The unease of Jerusalem follows you in and you find a church which is reluctantly shared between several denominations, members of these glare suspiciously at each other and tourists. I read somewhere that this internal war is so bitter that this church has to have a Muslim caretaker. As I came out of the edicule, the place of the tomb, I was given a gift from an Orthodox priest. I thought this was a nice and friendly gesture but this thought exploded as he demanded five dollars. This about sums the place up. It is not surprising that an alternative site, the 'Garden Tomb', has become established as the more spiritual place even if it has no chance of being the actual place. Bethlehem is no better. The church which houses the 'birthplace' of Jesus is at first sight an improvement on the Holy Sepulchre but going down into the 'cave' you find a tacky star marking the place which has
as much spiritual impact as the 'Manger Cafes' and 'Holy Child Hotels' outside. Not all the religious places are as disappointing as these two, the Garden of Gethsemane with its incredibly ancient olive trees for example and its church is much nicer. But at the same time one has to be aware that commercialisation is not a modern invention and the ancient residents soon discovered the financial benefits that came with pilgrim sites. Hence there are many of them and many have their own interesting features but don't believe everything you are told. If you do want to go to Jerusalem I would recommend that you check any details on the Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree especially if you want to go independently. Here you can find out about no go areas (e.g. the Mount of Olives at night) and other useful stuff. My favourite guidebook (mainly archaeological) is the Holy Land by J. Murphy O'Connor but I have not checked around much. As far as recommending it is concerned I would only recommend it if you are interested in the historical sites for the tension is sometimes quite difficult This is one of those times when I wish there was a 'sort of' option under recommend to a friend.
Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and a very important City to many world religeons is bang in the middle of the middle east. It is the coolest city in Israel, in the temperature sense, with wind and rain being fairly common, although it is only a two hour drive from both the dry and scorching Negev desert, and the tropical-like wet heat of the North. If you're holidaying in Israel, Jerusalem will give you a welcome break from the scorching heat, especially in summer time. There is much to see and do in Jerusalem, the centre of which is split up into four religious quarters - Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian. Although people generally stay in their own quarter, it is safe enough to explore if you excercise caution, and watch what you say and do - it is very easy to insult people when it comes to the tensions in a place like Jerusalem. When the country is peaceful, it is safe to wander around - in the frequent periods of unrest, it may be dangerous to wander in the Muslim quarter, or in certain areas of the Jewish Quarter. Avoid travelling around the Jewish Quarter on a Friday night, and Saturday before dark, as this is the Jewish Sabbath. The Arab market in the Muslim quarter is a great place for nicknacks - don't ever agree to the first price for anything - you can usually haggle down to about half price. Although there have been reports of attack, if you dress modestly, and hang on to your purse, you should be okay. Be careful about dress code in Jerusalem - don't go to any holy places in shorts and teeshirt with a camera round your neck, especially if you are a woman. Consult with the locals (their English is very good)about how to dress. Do visit the Western Wall, the last remaining wall of the second Jewish temple - it's worth a visit even if it has no religious significance for you. The atmosphere is intense, and you can see people praying at the wall, and stuffing scraps of paper with prayers
written on them into cracks in the wall. All around the Western World, as they pray, Jewish people face East towards the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Beggars are everywhere, shouting "Mitzvah! Mitzvah!" This is basically a call for you to do a good deed by giving them money (sneaky, eh?) Some sell bracelets or tacky jewellery and postcards. If you are not going to give these people money, it is best to ignore them completely, or else they will try to persuade you - give you puppy dog eyes, even follow you up the road. Ben Yehudah street is buzzing at night with shops, bars, clubs and market stalls. The best time to go is on a Saturday night, when the Jewish sabbath has finished, and everyone is ready for a night out. "The Underground" club is a favourite with both travellers and Israelis. Literally, Jerusalem - Ir Shalom - means "City of Peace", but there's always something happening whether it's cultural tension, occasion, celebration or multicultural event. Whether or not the city has religious or cultural significance for you, it's well worth a visit - it'll open your eyes.
"Jerusalem (Hebrew: יְרוּשָׁלַיִם , Arabic: القُدس) is Israel's seat of government, capital, and largest city both in population and area, with a population of approximately 724,000 (as of 2006) in an area totaling 126 square kilometers (49 sq mi). Located in the Judean Mountains between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea, Jerusalem is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jerusalem has been the holiest city in Judaism and the spiritual center of the Jewish people since the 10th century BCE. The city is widely considered the third-holiest in Islam and contains a number of significant and ancient Christian landmarks. Thus, while the city has a large Jewish majority, a wide range of national, religious, and socioeconomic groups are represented. The walled area of Jerusalem, which until the late nineteenth century formed the entire city, is now called the Old City and was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1982. It consists of four ethnic and religious sections the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters. Barely one square kilometer, the Old City is home to several of Jerusalem's most important and contested religious sites, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount for Jews, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians."