Day 32: Archaelogical Park, Western Wall Tunnel

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

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Harvey is now a pro driving in Israel and weaves the car from the free parking lot of the Mount Zion Hotel (another benefit of the hotel), over to King David Street to return the Eldan car.  The same agent who checked us out yesterday greets us upon our return. The other agent told us that she had yelled at him after we left the other day.  Friendly people. It's good to start your day with smiles from the people you meet!

Today's focus is the Western Wall and the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount.  We have a late afternoon reservation for the Western Wall Tunnel Tour, so we plan to spend the day with this time period as our theme.  

We walk through the Jaffa Gate and down the narrow aisles of the marketplace, to the Western Wall.  We have now been this way many times, but today, we walk with a particular mission and focus.  We pass through security at the Ha'idra Raba Yeshiva Entrance to the Western Wall, and just as we enter the large open area, we hear a group of people singing. We walk closer and notice what I think of as a wedding chuppa being carried by middle aged men, surrounding a young boy.  This looks like a bar mitzvah group making their way to the Western Wall. The leader is singing joyfully and with energy, and encouraging the men to join in.  They seem to be reluctantly participating and have very serious expressions on their faces.   We have not been here this early in the morning, and there is a lot of activity.  We hear some singing and musical instruments and walk in that direction, which happens to be in the direction of the Jerusalem Archeological Park and the Davidson Center, which is our next destination.  We walk out the security exit at the Western Wall, and the energy level and noise level has increased megawatts!  It's a raucous scene, and we're not quite sure where to look first!  In the distance, tour buses are disgorging their tourists, right outside the Dung Gate to the Old City.  Between the gate and the Western Wall Entrance/Exit, there are different groups of people clustered together around or facing a musical group. The drummer sets the pace and the accordion and clarinet players add to the rhythm so that you can't stop yourself from clapping and singing. And that is exactly what hundreds of people are doing!  We join in as well, even though we are also busy taking photos.  Several of the groups appear to be bar mitzvahs, others are tour groups identified by the color of the hat or t-shirt. The music creates the emotion of joy in the air as the musicians lead the procession to the Western Wall.  They make the ordinary process of walking towards something into a ceremony.  What fun!  That's what we need to do more often, take the daily typical things we do and make them special! Harvey goes over to a group of the musicians to chat.  They are freelance.  They come here every day and wait for bar mitzvahs.  Each group takes turns providing music for the passage from the bus drop off to the security entrance to the wall.  Sometimes several groups work together.  The drumming is fantastic.  Fortunately the musicians have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, which makes up for the awkward American kids who are afraid that they won't look cool if they get into the rhythm of the music.  After attending a few Israeli concerts we realize that Jews can have rhythm and we are not going to sit on the sidelines anymore!  We will even give it a go when the Latinos in Miami are on the floor.

At the ticket counter of the Davidson Center and The Jerusalem Archeological Park, we whip out our Holy Pass.  We are finally going to get our money's worth with this prepaid pass!  Up until today, we have only used it for one main "red" attraction and one "orange" site; we are entitled to one more "red" and two "orange" sites.  The attendant at the counter says that the card has expired and that he cannot give us admission tickets! He explains that the Holy Pass is only good for one week following activation and I ask him to show us that in writing in the little booklet that accompanies the pass.  There it is in small print!  It also says that group passes are valid for one month following activation. I don't understand the distinction between individuals and group passes, but here we are having prepaid for something that we can't use?!  I wonder what an Israeli would do in this situation.  Well, we are who we are, so we go about trying to find a resolution. I ask for someone to speak with and the attendant suggests we call the Jerusalem Municipality Information Office.  I speak with Edith who is very sympathetic, but the only thing she can do is give me the name and phone number of the Holy Pass office.  There is no answer, only a recording with the possibility of leaving a phone message.  I call Edith back, and wonder out loud how it can be that there is no one to talk to during regular business hours.  She comes up with an idea that is to give me the manager's personal cell phone, but she says she got it a long time ago and it may not be active anymore. I thank Edith and call the manager.  Again, no answer but the possibility of leaving a message. The attendant at the Davidson Center is very sympathetic.  He sees his supervisor and suggests that Harvey speak with him.  The supervisor's response is the universal shrug of shoulders and lifting of hands to the sky.  Then he just walks away.  As I shrug my shoulders, the attendant at the ticket counter, just gets off his phone and says it is all taken care of.  And my cell phone rings and it is the manager of the Holy Pass.  Sensibly, they are issuing us new passes!  We profusely thank the attendant for helping us.  We pay him for the audio guides (not included in the Holy Pass).  So here is the lesson learned: the Holy Pass can be a savings, but be aware that it does have a one-week expiration.  Before purchasing it, look carefully at the "red" and "orange" attractions and determine if you really want to go to the two red and the three orange that you will be entitled to.  It may or may not be a savings to you.  

When you give your entrance ticket to the guard, ask for the audio guide.    He will give you the handset and a map of audio locations.   We go first through the Davidson Center. It is a small museum in which among the many interesting things, we see some drawings of how these large building stones were moved during ancient times. Ahah! Very interesting!  The Center also has a movie recreation of the Herodian Temple Mount period. You know by now that I love these movies!  And this one is no exception.  It starts in Hebrew and we plan to just wait until it restarts in English.  Since we are the only ones in the theatre, someone asks if we prefer it in English.  They stop the film and restart it in English.  This is a friendly place. We now enter the outdoor Archaeological Park.  The Park is just outside the southern wall of the Temple Mount and the area is actually quite large, encompassing some Byzantine-era structures and some walls of early Islamic palaces.  But the real attraction and magnet for visiting this park is the Southern Wall, the ruins of the Herodian Temple Complex and Herodian era market street shops. With the excellent audio guide, a lot of information is presented.  As we are leaving this section of the Park we pass a small tour group standing in the shade.  Their tour leader is calling to them to move on.  They ignore him.  Harvey suggests that he tell them that they are moving on to a special lunch today.  He tries it and the tour group comes rushing over.
Standing at this Southern Wall, we have an opportunity to sit in the shade of some ancient columns and ponder what this wall was originally like and just how monumental a site it was in its day.    Keep in mind that this Southern Wall is a continuation of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.  There were so few people around it is easy to walk up and touch these stones.  One stone in particular caught my attention, the foundation stones at the base, where the Western and Southern Walls met.  If only these stones could talk....

Today, I fall in love with stone (again).  I don't seem able to resist reaching out and touching, staring and taking photos.  At a few points, I become oblivious to the audio guide as I just look in wonder, burning them onto the screen of my mind.  If you are to look at all the photos of today, the majority are of stones!  Don't worry, the web gallery has only a few!  I am not completely sure of the reasons behind the attraction, but I think it may be that it is a touchstone to help me keep perspective. These stones have been in place for thousands of years, in their simplicity and natural beauty they seem eternal.  All the people that put these walls in place, all the people who walked on these stones, whatever their concerns or worries, have no meaning now. Truly, all things are transient and all things do pass.  It is the natural order of things.  Keep perspective.

We are overdue for lunch and head up to the Jewish Quarter to find a bite to eat.  It's after traditional lunch hour and we find a quiet restaurant overlooking the general direction of The Wall.  The watermelon for desert hits the spot!

We now meander around the Jewish Quarter trying to find the Wohl Museum of Archaeology.  It is the excavated living quarters of the wealthiest aristocrats in Jerusalem during the Herodian Second Temple times.  We know we are in the right area as we had been at the entrance with our guide Madeleine, but there had been a lot of groups inside and we had decided to come back another time.  In our exploration of just a few blocks looking for the museum, we come across a large group of soldiers sitting on stairs and the ground.  Harvey walks up to the women and asks if he can take their picture.  They say yes.  One of the female soldiers walks over to Harvey and says it is OK to take photos of them, but don't ask guys to join them because they're the commanders. Harvey looks around and says there must be a hundred guys here, they all report to you?  When she says yes, Harvey pats her on the back. She walks over to other women to tell them.  Afterward some male soldiers want Harvey to take their pictures.  He says I just got the good looking babes, why would I want you.  He relents, takes the pictures and starts joking around.  One guy wants a blond, another a brunette.  A third does not care; he just wants a rich American girl.

At the Museum, we show our Holy Pass and enter.  It is an interesting stop and what impresses me the most are the visible remains of the fire that destroyed these homes. It is hard to believe that we can still see some of the wall paint. Harvey is trying to match up some of the exhibits to the displays and a man stops to give some answers.  He tells us that he is leading a small tour group and we should follow him to another area and hear his comments.  Apparently we are more interested in the museum than the family he is guiding.  He is quite expert in this museum, having written a book about it!

We must have passed one man asking for money at least four times, when we had been trying to find the Wohl Museum.    He is positioned on a set of stairs that you would pass when going from the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall.  As we pass him again on our way back to the Western Wall, we promise him that this is the last time for today!  After walking down the stairs Harvey decides to give him some money, so he goes back up. We had been charged with some friends at home to give $1 bills away as tsadaka.  This man seemed worthy.  After giving him the money he says that Harvey will have good fortune, will have a wonderful life filled with love and happiness and so on.  He shakes Harvey's hand as if they are best of friends.

We have been near the Western Wall several times this past week. Today, we have set time aside to approach it.  Harvey goes to the men's side and I go to the women's side. Amid all the people there, we each go into ourselves. We are alone within ourselves, in contemplation...

We have about an hour before our tunnel tour, so we sit in the open plaza in front of the Western Wall and people watch.  Harvey takes some candid photos.  We walk up to the Generations Center entrance and ask about it and whether we can get in.  I had tried to make reservations months ago but they were all booked. Evidently there had been a cancellation, because we are told we can come tomorrow at 5:20 PM.  

Finally, with anticipation, we line up for the Western Wall Tunnel Tour!  This is an amazing tour and a must see!  As soon as you have your dates for Jerusalem, call and get yourself booked - reservations are essential and this tour is very popular!  If I had been entranced with stones earlier today, I only grew more so as the tour progressed.  At one point, we are standing in front of one stone that is, get this, 45 feet long, 10 feet tall, 15 feet deep.  Can you imagine this?  We have some photos, but there is no way you can capture how large this stone is.  It is one of the base stones of the Temple Mount.  No one knows how they got it into place!  Our guide said that this stone is an example of making the impossible possible.  Thought provoking.

These stones that we are touching were placed here 2100 years ago.  That we are able to come here and touch these stones is mind boggling.  After 2,000 years they are so well preserved.  Thanks to the State of Israel, we are able to return and walk here.

Over dinner, Harvey and I talk about what we are looking forward to.   We are going home the day after next, and our minds are starting to think about home and what is waiting for us.  It is hard to believe that we have one more day to our trip!  We talk about Israel as such a country of contrasts, of all we have seen and experienced. We open a half bottle of merlot with pasta and salad and toast life, our hope for tolerance and peace, and our thanks that we have been able to come here again, on our 37th wedding anniversary.   The wine goes straight to my head and I laugh the whole walk back to the hotel.  I am sitting on the balcony now writing this journal and the Muslim call to prayer is blasting from East Jerusalem.  There is a Bar Mitzvah on the outside patio of our Mount Zion Hotel.  Contrasts!

Today, we walked through the Western Wall tunnel and many different time periods - in some small way we touched time that is much longer than our minutes, hours, months, years.    Where did the time go today?  It just flowed.
Click here for today's photos!  
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