Travels with V
A city divided, divine, unhealed
Jerusalem part one
Israel was the first country outside Europe that we travelled together, V and I. At that time my camera was a very small one, which can be practical in some situations. But the quality of the pictures I shot often wasn’t the best. So all the high quality pix in this story are shot by V, my super professional wife!
VIEW FROM THE CITADEL OVER THE OLD CITY. THE GOLDEN DOME IS THE ROCK MOSQUE: MOUNT OLIVE TOP RIGHT
Five things we liked in Israel:
- Hotel in Jerusalem: Azzahra. A super nice, family-owned hotel near the old town. Not expensive, and you’re really well taken care of there.
- What to see in Jerusalem: The Old Town, definitely. A labyrinth of busy bazaar streets. Small cafés. And via Dolorosa. Tempel mount, with beautiful roman vaults and gorgeous mosaic.
- The kibbutz Ein Gedi, Truly a green lush oasis in the hot red desert. Starting point for excursions to the Dead Sea.
- Eilat, we have to admit, even though it’s something of a tourist trap. But here you’ll find some good pubs and restaurants. Fantastic snorkeling in the Red Sea.
- Petra in Jordan, one of those spots you just have to see. Trips are sold by many agents in Haifa. Don’t go for the shortest tour, you’ll need at least 3-4 hours to see everything.
Arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv you are met with an extremely high level of security. Many who work there carry guns and our luggage is x-rayed multiple times. But since this is business as usual here things still work smoothly for us when we arrive one very early morning. We’re quite soon out on the street wondering where to find the airport transfer to Jerusalem.
But of course. It’s Saturday morning and the Jewish Sabbath. So no airport bus today. Luckily there are Palestinian drivers with so called “sheruts”, mini vans leaving when the vehicle is full and letting us off one by one at our destinations.
We get a good glimpse of Jerusalem’s outskirts and suburbs before we disembark as the last passengers on the sherut. We’re now in East Jerusalem, in the Palestinian quarters, just a stone’s throw from the city wall around the Old City.
There’s not a lot of guests at the Azzahra Hotel and we get a large room with a great balcony overlooking a flowering garden. The staff is super-friendly and the breakfasts, with olives, tomatoes, hummus, cheese and bread is so delicious!
We walk directly to the city wall and enter the Old City via one of it’s famous eight gates, the Sha’ar HaPrahim (in Hebrew) or Bab al-Zahra (Arabic), both names meaning the “Flower Gate”. It’s also known as the “Herodes Gate”.
Inside there’s a labyrinth of narrow streets, roofed over bazaars and a neverending flow of people, vendors, tourists, worshippers and locals.
Everywhere there are sweet smells of spices, fruits and textiles.
Often groups of people walk here along the route where Jesus is believed to have been marched carrying the cross, Via Dolorosa, the road of pains. We even saw groups carrying their own cross through the crowded lanes.
In the eastern part of Old Jerusalem the most conflict-ridden place in the city is found. The Temple Mount with the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. By one side of the Mount is of course the Wailing Wall, the remains of the second Jewish temple. So the most holy places of the two religions are closest neighbours.
For Jews this wall is a constant reminder of the catastrophic loss of the Temple, for Muslims this is a sanctuary surrounded by its enemies, constantly in need of protection and defence. The political demands from extreme and conservative Jews to take full control of the Temple Mount is heard more often and louder by the day.
At the Wailing, or Western Wall the open space is divided in three sections, the largest one in direct contact with the wall is for male believers, a smaller one beside it is for women. Tourists are restricted to a space some 50 meters away from the wall.
In the female space there are always a group of individuals standing on chairs to be able to peek into the men’s compartment. But not one man seems to be interested in what goes on in the female section.
In the next chapter we do, after overcoming a certain amount of obstacles, enter the Temple Mount and see all the beautiful buildings and the activities of the believers up there.