Day 27: Private walking tour of Jerusalem

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

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

We are looking forward to our day with Madeleine Lavine, our private guide for today. Although we have walked through sections of the Old City, visiting the Western Wall and the Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem seems like a big elephant that you try to wrap your arms around but it's impossible to do; it's a lot like an onion in that as you peel, you realize how many layers there are. We anticipate a more intimate look and new perspectives.
Among Madeleine's first questions was if we had any preferences in mind or a list or particular places or things we want to do today. This is our first clue that no two tours will be exactly the same with Madeleine.   We talk about what we've seen and done since we arrived on Sunday, a bit about our state of mind and how we're not city people and don't like crowds and just like a pro, she outlines some possibilities for the day.   We clearly are in the hands of a professional guide as she adjusts her tours based on the interests of her clients.  

Interestingly enough, we start our tour right at our hotel!  Over the past two days, we have begun to get over the initial negative reaction we had when we first checked in and have begun to appreciate some of its positives:  it is unique architecturally and definitely has character; you get a sense of place, for we have not seen anything like it anywhere we have traveled.  The views facing the Old City, Mount of Olives and the Hinnom Valley are truly special, particularly as the light changes throughout the day.  We can walk to most of the places we want to go.  And now we learn about the history of this location and its place in history.  Madeleine takes us through hallways, pointing out old pictures on the walls, then through the breakfast room winding her way through a terrace up and down stairs and before we know it, we are at the Cable Car Museum.  We had seen the sign from the street, but it was never open, but Madeleine knows the way in!    It is a fascinating historical spot, not to mention the views that serve as Madeleine's springboard for a historical overview of the landmarks.  We're off to a great start, and as it turns out the entire day just flows from place to place, with interesting commentary and sharing quiet interesting places like this.  

Since the day is a steady stream of sites and sounds, I will only a mention a few of the places that are of special note, more comments will follow in the photo gallery! Across the street from the Mount Zion Hotel is the Jerusalem House of Quality, comprised of artist workshops and galleries.  We have passed this several times and never went in, but even if we had we would not have learned about the beautiful hand painted Armenian tiles that were part of the courtyard.  We stroll through the neighborhoods of Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Sha'ananim. Madeleine shares readings from Mark Twain, one of Harvey's favorite writers!  Madeleine read excerpts from "An Innocent Abroad" in which Twain described Jerusalem in a very negative manner.  They discuss "Letters From The Earth", which was not published until 50 years after Twain died.  A journalist that Madeleine knows just parked his car and is going to a breakfast meeting.  According to Madeleine there are more journalists per capita in Jerusalem than just about anywhere else in the world.

On the Rampart Walk, we feel like we have a bird's eye view of both sides of the Old City walls.  We peer down into people's backyards and have a tiny window into life in the Old City.  We look at the roofs and visual clues such as solar hot water collectors and satellite dishes tell us a bit more.  Iconic landmarks can be seen as well as many other landmarks that tell the story of Jerusalem are visible from these ramparts. At one gate we look down and we have passed into the Arab Quarter and note how people are dressed differently, but bustling along in the same way as the Christian Quarter.  We exit down at the Roman Plaza at the Damascus Gate where there is a small museum.  The entrance attendant tells us our Holy Pass does not allow access, but I find the little pamphlet that accompanied the pass and it is clearly listed.  He lets us pass through and we see many old photos of the gate, remnants of the original stone and markings of a floor game made by the Romans!  I really like touching the old stone and keep reaching out for it.  

We know Madeleine took to heart our request for quiet places when we step inside Zedekiah's Cave.  We are the only people walking through this huge quarry cave from which the stones of the Temple came.  It is hard to fathom that we are walking directly under the alleys of the Old City!   We really enjoy walking deeper and deeper into the cave system, seeing the markings of the quarry process and the shapes of each of the sections.  Fascinating.  And it is cool down here!

We now enter East Jerusalem, and as far as either Harvey or I could see, we are the only westerners.  We walk on the main street, passing many stores and the hustle and bustle of busy streets, making our way to the Rockefeller Museum.  The building itself combines several different architectural time periods and you get a sense in the entrance foyer of walking into a large private mansion.  One of the highlights was the Beliefs and Believers exhibit which contained items from the Israel Museum. There is a human figure made out of pottery that is 10,000 years old and it looks like it could have been made just yesterday.    I don't think I have ever seen any pottery object this old!  In one of the exhibition galleries, we feel like we are in a time machine, with each step in this room we are viewing objects from as far back as 200,000 years ago to 1,200 B.C.  Wow.  There are some very notable objects such as the original bas-relief from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and architectural objects from an Islamic palace near Jericho.  No photos are allowed in the galleries, so we can only a share a few that we took under cover so to speak.   For lunch we stop in at a hidden restaurant on the grounds of the Rockefeller Museum, frequented by staff of the museum.  It is the best lunch bargain in town at $6 per person for fresh salad selections and hot dishes.

In the Arab Quarter, we wind our way through the streets and then walk up steps into a school that is closed today.  It becomes clear what we are seeking, a clear view of the Temple Mount grounds and the Dome of the Rock.   What a view.

We stop for coffee and tea in the Arab Quarter and while it is being brewed, Madeleine goes to a nearby shop and gets some sesame treats to complement the drinks.  Here we are sitting on stools in the Arab Quarter watching the world go by. Some of the men who had been sitting around when we arrived took off.  I don't know if we were a factor.  Anyway, when Madeleine returns and sits down she turns around and picks up one book from a stack right behind her.  We surmise by the engraving and text that it is the Koran.  We take in the sounds and think that it is experiences like this we would not have without a guide.  

In the Jewish Quarter, since we have already been to the Western Wall, we make a short visit here.  We'll return on our own another day.   And then we pass through the winding streets of the Jewish Quarter.  We walk along the Cardo with its ancient columns. Madeleine gives us some choices along the way of going into some sites, but we pass. Then on to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.    Three major iconic sites (Dome of the Rock, Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulcher) in such a short time!  That is the part of being in Jerusalem that takes your breath away.  Jerusalem has different meanings and significance to so many people!  When we were meeting with our rabbi before we got married, he described a tennis ball, with one side white and one side black.  He told us that at times one of us would see black and the other white, but to remember that these were just different perspectives on the same ball. That is what Jerusalem is - to the Christians, Muslims, Jews there is the religious connection and to the secularists there is the historical and cultural connection, yet we all share the same city.  We only hope that some day there can be enough tolerance that we can all live together in peace.

On our way back to the Jaffa Gate, Madeleine, knowing my interest in photography, takes us to Elia Photo Service in the Christian Quarter. We meet Kevork Kahvedjian and we briefly browse through an incredible selection of historical photographs that are for sale at a reasonable price.  You can check some of them out on-line at  We walk by another shop and the owner, who recognizes Madeleine, invites us in for tea or coffee.  We agree to come in after visiting the money changer and we meet Josef Natsheh who is a collector of Bedouin jewelry, rugs, wall coverings that could be bedspreads in our home and all sorts of other things (on the Christian Quarter Street 30, cell 0522386465). We enjoy looking at the handmade items and admire the quality of the goods.  We do not have a clue as to what a reasonable price is for a few items that we were interested in.  We are not shoppers, but we can see if you are, you could take the time to become knowledgeable, negotiate a reasonable deal and get some really neat things.  I express some interest in Armenian pottery, and Madeleine shows us a shop that has prices marked with good quality.  We may return on another day.

We walk back to the Mount Zion Hotel on a different path, just as the day in the Old City has taken us on different paths.  With Madeleine, we went to places we would never have gone on our own.   She is professional, friendly, enthusiastic, and made the day fun and interesting.  We are very glad we spent the day with her and would highly recommend her.  She can be reached at or her cell is 054-4504098.

We take a very brief rest, and then walk over to another neighborhood quite close to our hotel, the German Colony.  Here is another advantage of the Mount Zion Hotel; it is in convenient walking distance of so many places a tourist wants to see.  We are meeting Debi, our TripAdvisor who has helped in so many threads!  From our postings she already knows what we look like so there is no problem connecting at the restaurant.  We meet her at Joy, recommended by Guyava who we are sorry could not join us this evening.  It is fun to put a face to a name, ask questions we haven't been able to ask, learn about each other's lives, share stories and hopes, break bread together and share yummy food.   

We have now learned that the front desk personnel at the Mount Zion Hotel can be very friendly and helpful.  Just stay away from them at their peak times when processing tour arrivals. That was the difficulty we had on our arrival day.  This evening, we ask for help with dinner reservations for Friday and Saturday nights. Harvey told her (in Hebrew) that she spoke English very well, not a typical accent. She said that Harvey spoke Hebrew very well. When most tourists try to speak Hebrew they hem and haw so much that the clerks wish they would just speak English and get on with it! Harvey does not have a large vocabulary but if he sticks with a few phrases he seems to sound pretty good.  We've noticed this same phenomenon with wait staff in some restaurants.  They appear to speak English pretty well while taking an order.  But if you ask any non-menu related questions it becomes apparent that they do not really speak English.  Languages, like most things, require constant usage.  The more varied the usage, the more fluent the knowledge. I think we can find the bathroom in about six languages.

Click here for today's photos!  
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