Hangin w/ the Pope

Trip Start Aug 2008
Trip End Jul 2009

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Flag of Israel  ,
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Our Jerusalem experience started the second we got out of the cab. We stayed in the old city, right by the Damascus Gate. It was really cool until we had to schlep our bags (I have the biggest/heaviest bag in the world) down several flights of stairs, through a very busy open-air market, and up several flights of stairs into our hotel) ... just picture chaos! We had enough time to check in and throw our bags down before heading to our next meeting at the Jerusalem Center for Women.

Miriam, the head of the center, was probably one of the coolest people we met on the trip. She is a Palestinian living in Jerusalem (technically Israel), which means she is in a completely different situation from Palestinians living in the West Bank or in Israel proper. She was really passionate about the Arab/Israeli conflict and had great things to say. Her 2 best points where:

1. That there is an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness after Israel's recent incursion in Gaza. Everything that people had been working for their entire lives (peace process, coexistence, cooperation) was completely undone by the few weeks of terror in Gaza.

2. That the Arab nations are relying entirely on the Palestinians to fight their battle for Jerusalem. Jerusalem is home to the al-Aqsa Mosque, the 3rd holiest site in Islam.  However, none of the Arab nations are willing to put up their side of the fight for the mosque. As she said, "They can have the mosque, but they will not walk over my dead body for it."

After our meeting, we had dinner on the roof of our hotel. The hotel had one of the best views I have ever seen ... You could easily see both mosques of the Temple Mount. Later in the evening a few of us (Nicole, the other global that was in the group (not in my cohort), Angel, my old TA, and Karl, everyone's favorite Irishman) went out for drinks in the new part of Jerusalem.

Angel and I were the last 2 out. When we walked back to our hotel there were about 4 soldiers standing on the stairs. We asked if we could get by them, and they tried talking to us in Arabic. They were testing us ... and we failed!

The next morning we went to the Knesset, Israel's Parliament building. We only have pictures from outside, b/c they wouldn't let us take our cameras inside. It was pretty cool, b/c we got to see where the Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat delivered his speech to the Israeli Parliament about his plan for peace. It was a truly monumental speech and had a vital impact on the conflict. Fun fact: the seats on the floor of the Parliament are arranged in the shape of a menorah!

Afterwords we went to the Holocaust museum (which is shaped in the shape of a triangle for a reason, but I can't remember why. Considering the property is 45-acres and contains everything from the Holocaust History Museum to the Hall of Remembrance, to outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities,  and more, there was certainly an overload of stuff there. It is totally understandable b/c the Holocaust played such an enormous part in the founding of the Jewish state of Israel. Our tour guide went on FOREVER. After about an hour and a half of her talking, I decided that I had had enough (plus it has only been like 6 months since I was at Auschwitz, and that was way more beneficial to me than the museum). So, a few of us bailed on the rest of the tour, which was good, b/c I'm pretty sure it went on for 3 more hours! :(

There was another talk that afternoon, but it's not really worth mentioning. The next day, Friday, was our only free day to be tourists in Jerusalem, but the Pope was in town and was actually visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which wasn't far from our hotel. It wouldn't have been an issue if Old Jerusalem was a normal city, but it certainly isn't! It's basically just a bunch of narrow ally ways. So, the only way to secure the area near the church, was to completely block most of the allies within the Old city. Nicole and I attempted to go out and explore that morning, but failed miserably b/c of the Pope Show.

All of the city tours were also closed that day, which was a complete disappointment. However, there was a REALLY smart Romanian kid in our group, Bogdon, who said he would take us on a tour of the city. So, once the Pope cleared out, we were on our way - first stop, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church is said to encompass both Christ's tomb and the Rock of Calvary (rock where the cross was put for crucifixion). At the entrance to the church, they also display the stone of anointing, where Jesus was said to have been prepared for burial. Wikipedia has more info if you care: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre

We also visited the room that is said to be where the Last Supper was held. However, the current room was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. It is possible that it stands over or near the original site of the Last Supper. The room was transformed into a mosque by the Ottomans in 1524. They weren't so much concerned w/ the Christian understanding of the room and were focused on King David's tomb(which was closed when we were there), which is located on the level below.

Next we went to the site that is supposedly where Mary was buried ... however there are several other sites in the world that also claim to be where she is buried ...

Then we went to the wailing wall. It was pretty cool to finally see something we hear so much about. You'll notice that men get to pray at about 3/4 of the wall, while women get 1/4.

Our last stop was the Via Dolorosa, which is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on his way to the Crucification. We stopped by the Church of the Condemnation and a nice little man explained some of the property. Apparently on the floor are games the soldiers played while waiting for the sentencing (?or something like that?). He also showed us the plant that they would have made the crown of thorns with.

After a fun filled day of questionable Jesus sites and suffering, it was certainly time for a drink. Angel managed to find the only place that serves alcohol in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem (where our hotel was) and we set up shop there for the night. It was quite interesting, seeing as it was Friday night, and sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. We watched Hasidic Jews parade to and from the Western Wall for prayer - it was insane!

We were at our little drinking hole for quite some time, so needless to say, getting up the next morning and heading to the West Bank was NOT enjoyable!

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Where I stayed
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