Day 24: To Jerusalem

Trip Start May 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 17, 2008

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Not a good night's sleep.  We've had the barking dogs at Shacharut and last night we had people loudly talking as they clopped down the hall outside our room. The couple next door had loud sex that we couldn't tune out.  There was the group of guys singing loudly on the other side of the pool.  A baby cried in one of the rooms. Thoughts from the John Denver song came to mind:  "out of place" and "out of sync". We are glad to be leaving the Hotel Agamim on this holiday weekend in Eilat.   We didn't get those two nights of full out rest, but it is a relief to be moving on.  

On this trip, we have been on a plane, taxi, private self drive, camel, jeep 4x4, train, our feet and now a bus!  We have a reservation for the bus, but no tickets.  There is only one ticket window open and a long line.  Harvey gets in line as I guard the luggage in a nice comfortable bus station seat.  He meets a young man who has extended his Birthright trip and is visiting family in Tel Aviv.  There are signs saying that you have to purchase tickets three days in advance, but everyone seems to ignore this.  As usual someone brazenly walks to the head of the line.  She is smart. She jumps ahead of a young tourist who does not have the confidence to push her out of the way.  Everyone is yelling at her, but she ignores them.  The clerk helps her and she calmly walks the gauntlet of yelling Israelis.  Finally Harvey gets to the head of the line and is told that he does not need a ticket.  He is told to just tell the bus driver your name and he will give you a ticket.  When the time comes several buses show up heading for Jerusalem. People seem to know which bus to board, but we have no clue which one is ours.  Harvey makes an executive decision.  We put our bags in the bus storage, push and shove a bit and board the bus.  The driver looks us up on his list and gives us seat numbers.  We have no idea if we chose the correct bus, or if we could have gotten on any bus to Jerusalem.  It's a mystery. The bus is full and it takes off.

Today's intention is to keep perspective, that all forms are transient.  As the bus moves, the landscape zips by.  Like life, you blink an eye and you miss something. We just zone out with our ipods, content for the opportunity to just quietly sit.  As we approach Jerusalem, we set the ipods to Ofa Hazza, Jerusalem of Gold.   It is a beautiful song and we are full of anticipation!  We make a few stops and everyone jumps off to go to the bathroom or buy food at the fast food restaurant.  When the bus leaves one stop an older couple is missing.  They wave down the bus as it passes the entrance to the restaurant.  The bus stops and they board.  Then as the bus is about to get on the road someone walks up to the driver and says something.  He disembarks and we think he is trying to find a missing friend.  But no, after about 5-10 minutes he just comes back as if this is normal.  Based on the tone of voice I don't think the driver was very happy about this.

The taxi driver at the Jerusalem bus station finds someone who can speak English.  I find our papers with the address of the Mount Zion Hotel and we're set!  Harvey and the driver speak a little Hebrew together, like, where are you from?  Have you been to Jerusalem before?

We arrive at the hotel and the bellboy (why are they called bell boys?) immediately helps us with our luggage. We walk to the reception desk where we are not even greeted, just abruptly asked for our name.  There are four men all rushing around. One helps us and just wants us to sign in and doesn't want to answer my query about our room and if it has the terrace we had requested.  The lobby is filled with people and very noisy.  Clearly, they just want to process us.  We are put off, expecting some welcome or friendliness, as we have had in every hotel in Israel so far.

The bellboy takes us to our room, and right outside our room in the hallway are dirty dishes. I'm thinking, I don't like this place.  We walk into the room and it is clean and nicely decorated, with a king size bed, some nice tile details in the bathroom and a refrigerator that will be convenient.  The positive clincher is the terrace overlooking the Old City, Mount Scopus and the City of David. It is weird that you can look to the left and see the walls of the old city, and look to the right and see the barrier dividing Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Harvey is uncomfortable, and doesn't like the vibes and wants to get out.  Really I think he has had it and wants to go home.  So we walk for about 10-15 minutes to the Jaffa Gate and the Old City.  It is one of those singular moments that you recognize at the time...of stepping through the gates of this iconic city.  We kiss.  We take out our map to get our bearings, walk through some stalls selling all sorts of tourist souvenirs.  Shopkeepers try to engage us in conversation by saying "welcome" and we say no thank you.  We pass t-shirt shops, sandals, carvings, rugs, ceramics, religious items...eventually we find the Western Wall.  We have arrived in Jerusalem!  We find a quiet spot and watch the people go by.  It's the eve of Shavuot and many people are about.  We decide not to approach the Wall just now.  

We consider switching hotels.  We recognize this as a sign that we are tired and out of sorts, so we know that we need to let some time pass before taking any action.  We walk to the Citadel to see what it is like. Too noisy, too fancy for us; it could be anywhere in the world.  We walk to the Three Arches Restaurant at the YMCA that we figured would be open on a Jewish holiday, and find a quiet respite with pasta and salad. It is a perfect ambience to quiet us down.

We are now back on our terrace to watch our first sunset over the Old City walls. Magic.  We give each other a big hug.  

Click here for today's photos!
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