Shalom from the centre of world religion!
Trip Start May 01, 2010
33Trip End Jul 10, 2010
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Well after our border crossing from Taba into Israel our passports must have been checked at least a dozen times by the authorities. We caught a taxi to Eilat airport, an airport which was strangely right in the middle of the city. When we got there we were interrogated by some guy in a uniform who again asked some rather personal questions about what our connection was, how long we had been married, how long had we known each other, whether we knew anyone in Egypt or Israel, whether we carried anything for anyone across the border, whether we visited anyone’s private home, whether we had been asked any personal questions from anyone else, which hotels we stayed at in Egypt and for how long, whether we had bought anything which hadn’t been packed in front of us, what our occupation was and where we were staying in Israel. Yes Israel is the mother of all security measures!
After a quick flight to the Ben Gurion airport which is somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv we tried to figure out how to get to Jerusalem without paying a fortune to taxi drivers asking about $100. We ended up finding a sherut – a shared taxi but problem was that we had to wait for the shuttle bus to fill before the driver would take us to our hotel. Luckily we had about 4 episodes of Masterchef to catch up on because we ended up waiting about an hour and half before we left the airport. By then it was close 9pm and we were very keen to just get to our hotel.
Driving by we noticed the walls to the old city. The old walls almost stood out like a huge fortress and we were amazed the good condition they were in. We were dropped off at Jaffa Gate which is one of the many gates leading into the old city. We finally got to our hostel and although the reception didn’t look half bad the rooms were awful. I know I sound a bit precious here but the bathroom was filthy, the bed was small and the sheets looked unclean, mosquitoes were flying above us everywhere ready to attack, dead mosquitoes were also smacked against walls, but the worst part of the room was the fact there was no fan or air-conditioning!!! And it was an awful hot balmy night. Accommodation in Jerusalem, particularly near the old city where all the attractions are, is horrendously expensive. Daniel had read great reviews about this hostel and we thought we would be out most of the day exploring we thought we’d go budget. Well I must have slept about 20 mins the whole night. I actually spent some time looking up other accommodation in Jerusalem and found another hotel about 15 minutes walk away from the old city. I booked the hotel for the next 3 nights just refusing to stay at the hostel. Daniel and I must have killed about 20 mosquitoes that night and even then I still got mauled in my sleep
We then caught a taxi straight to the Alcazar hotel which we discovered is in a Palestinian part of Jerusalem. The owner although looked quite scary and mean, generously checked us in straight away and offered us a free breakfast. Our room was a lot better with a fan and not a mosquito in sight. We were both exhausted from the night before and spent the day catching up on sleep and exploring the area around the hotel.
The next day we decided to go on a walking tour of Jerusalem. The tour departed from Jaffa Gate and there were two options – one being a free walking tour and another one costing us about $25 each. We opted for the paid tour because it seemed we would be taken inside more religious sites. Our tour guide was a funny young Jewish fellow who was very friendly and knowledgeable having been born in Jerusalem and lived here his whole life. The first place he took us to was the site of where the last supper was held
We then went to King David’s tomb managed by the Jewish. Men and women were separated and men had to cover their heads. King David was the King of Israel who united the Israelites. He is also from David and Goliath. It’s unsure if King David’s body is really inside the tomb but there are many devout Jewish people and some Christians who come to pray anyway.
We then walked through the Jewish quarter passing some old Roman ruins. We noticed the Israeli flag a lot here. More so than any other country we’ve been to. We also see many orthodox Jewish men in heavy black jackets with black hats, long beards and sideburns. The sideburns often come down to their shoulders and are either twisted or curled in some sort of tight ringlet. They also walk around with their head down carrying black briefcases. I wandered what they did for a living and most have normal jobs but some are fully devoted to study and are given a small allowance by the Government. There were many young boys who all wore the little Jewish hat known as a kippah. When we saw a group of Jewish boys playing soccer I marvelled at how that hat could stay on top of their heads while they played. I then looked more closely and noticed bobby pins and hair clips women usually wear to keep their hair in place holding the kippahs in place
We then ended up at the church of the Holy Sepulchre also called the Church of the Resurrection. This church is built on the mountain Golgotha where Jesus was crucified and later buried. The church is quite dark and inside we were first lead to the site where Jesus was crucified. There was a massive long line of pilgrims all waiting their turn to touch the rock of Calvary which is the 12th station of the cross. Pilgrims were reaching down to touch the rock where the cross that Jesus was crucified on was raised. The alter above this rock is very ornately decorated and actually belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church.
We then were taken to the Stone of Anointing where Jesus’s body was prepared for burial. Pilgrims for many years have touched this stone and many bend over to kiss and lay their hands across the slab. In the past, pilgrims would chip away at the stone to take a piece with them away because as our tour guide said many felt that they would never come back and wanted a piece of that site with them to take home. So now there is another slab of stone on top of the original. Still doesn’t stop the pilgrims from treating the stone as if it were the original. Behind the stone was a mosaic depicting the death and burial of Jesus.
We then walked to the main room known as the rotunda where the tomb of Jesus is found
Coming to this place made me realise that the Catholics seems to have very little presence and control over these religious sites which form the basis of our beliefs. Jerusalem is a place where there are conflicts between all religious sects and everything here is all about religion. There is no integration between the religions here. Our Jewish guide said he had never gone to school with any Muslims or ever had a Muslim friend. Most Jews and Muslims here spend their lives segregated and avoid venturing in each other’s quarters in the old city. Our guide told us that not only is there this segregation between the religions but that they also go overboard and guard their areas in a most ridiculous way. A true example was when there a Coptic monk who was sitting in the hot sun with no shade decided to move his chair slightly over into the shade which was considered an Ethiopian Christian monks area. Well this started an all out brawl with rocks and chair throwing because the Ethiopian monks considered that chair move to indicate a hostile takeover
We then went into an Armenian chapel which lead to a cave where it is believed Jesus’s cross was found. Various churches now around the world claim to have pieces of this cross. We then walked the 12 Stations of the Cross. This walkway is now populated by shops selling tacky souvenirs.
Well we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant which served up the usual hummus, falafel, various dips, pickles and chips. I think Israel runs on hummus.
After lunch we walked to the famous Western (Wailing)Wall where we could see Jews praying and stuffing their little prayer notes into the cracks of the wall. Next we passed through security and walked up a ramp to get to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is a raised and walled area within the Old City that contains some of the most important religious sites in the world. Although in Israeli controlled Jerusalem, the Temple Mount is managed by an Islamic council. The dress code is the strictest we came across ensuring that no knees or shoulders were shown and even if a girl’s t-shirt revealed the lower part of the neck then she was told to cover it
The Temple mount is quite a large space where people can sit in shady spots and escape the noise and bustle of the city. There are two buildings in the temple mount, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock both of which cannot be entered by non-Muslims.
The al-Aqsa mosque is where Muslims believe Mohammed was transported to one night before he ascended to heaven and have a chat with Abraham, Moses, Jesus and God. The mosque itself was not as impressive as I had expected but it had been rebuilt a number of times due to natural disasters etc.
The second building, The Dome of the Rock has a huge gold domed roof which dominates the skyline of the Old City of Jerusalem. Underneath the dome is a large rock which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. The rock supposably marks the location of the Holy of Holies in the first temple of Judaism on which the Ark of the Covenant sat and Jews around the world pray in the direction of this rock
Well the tour wound up and we walked back to the hotel through the old city. It is a city full of so much history and the site of so much conflict. The animosity between the residence is note very well hidden and it doesn’t seem to take much for things to heat up very quickly.
Tomorrow we go to Tel Aviv to see a more modern side of Israel and hopefully hit the beach!
Hope all this history didn’t bore you too much.
Daniel + Ly