This historic holy city where Easter originated…
Despite not being religious, I couldn’t not come all the way to Israel and not see Jerusalem. Like many, I had grown up with the story of the bible and how Easter came about.
So it was right up there to visit but the trip was to Tel Aviv for a friends birthday – a friend who had already seen these places but was very happy for me to go and explore. So I decided on a tour rather than DIY. Not my usual style but on a short time frame and not having time to get lost or miss landmarks was a great option.
And my top tip is if you are at all nervous on your own – book through a hotel concierges – means if there’s any problem you can call them and they who can help you. 💙 (doesn’t even have to be one you are staying at!) but you will probably make friends waiting for the pick up & on the trip as I did! Bonus of a tour! 🤗
So first thing to note is clothing. 1. The old city is a holy city so make sure you have clothes that can cover legs and shoulders depending where you want to go. And good shoes for walking. You are on your feet, over cobbles through markets all morning. 2. It is considerably colder than Tel Aviv as it is mountainous. So layers are key!
The tour started early (one reason I don’t usually do tours). Easy meeting point outside my hotel and right on cue, picked up in a little mini bus. We were then driven to just outside the city to switch buses. (They pick up all their tours for the day then organise who goes in which bus rather than multiple pick ups from the same hotels for different tours) A bit of a faff but all highly organised and friendly. I was struck by how many young solo travellers there are (and now feel a little silly for being at all apprehensive at going!)
And so finally on our way… our first stop is a toilet stop at the Elvis Diner. 🤷♀️ Yes, that’s right. No idea why other than maybe an arrangement they have with tour companies!? But hey if you are an Elvis fan you’ll love it.
Then FINALLY we were on our way to Jerusalem. We stop again, this time at the Mount of Scopus (which is part of the ridge mountains which includes the Mount of Olives). It’s also a famous look out point, part of the Tabachnik Garden where the Hebrew university was built. With incredible views over the old and new city from Temple Mount to the Dome of Rock. It was beyond breathtaking.
There’s also a handy map so you actually know what you are looking at if you don’t have a helpful guide!
Back on the road and not long till we were driving down into the old city past the Garden of Gethsemane to an underground car park! Well we did have to park somewhere!
First stop was the entering the gates and taking a moment to acknowledge whatever your religious or non religious beliefs are this was an amazing historical city. We went straight to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Well we were taken to an upmarket very expensive souvenir store first! 🙄)
The guide took us to the side, explained the church was build on 3 sites. The crucifixion, where the body was laid out and where he was buried.
I was not prepared for how moving this place would be. Or how busy! He explained that the burial site/ tomb is enclosed within the church and the queues can be hours long. So if this is important to you, do a tour learn where everything is easily THEN go back early morning when it opens. One girl in the tour stayed to queue but meant she missed so much after it.
The reason we were taken to the souvenir shop first was some people believe that the stone that Jesus body was laid out on is blessed. So many people buy special jewellery from this store, take it to the stone and lay it on for either themselves or those they know who can’t make a trip like this. I actually thought this was brilliant idea (love a present ✔️ have religious friends ✔️ but then discovered these where £100s of pounds (cheaper less authentic ones in other stores we weren’t taken to 🙄!) For everyone else you can take your own jewellery or just place your hands on if you believe in this.
After about half an hour we were on the move again. This time taken all round the city on the ‘Via Dolorosa’ which is the processional route Jesus was believed to have taken as he carried the cross to his crucifixion.
Theres a 14 stations along this route. Each marked with signs. This is where a guide was invaluable as he explained what each station meant. What was supposed to have happened at them. (The final few are in the church so some people like to do this first and end up at the church) You can of course find a wealth of guide information on line, in books but they don’t answer question – which we had a lot of!
At station 5 Jesus is believed to have had one of the three stumbles and placed his hand on the wall to steady himself.
There are plenty of stalls and market shops and drink stops along the route – less able to stop in a tour but there if needed.
One thing to note that our guide warned us of was a scam that involves being approached and given a present … this didn’t actually happen to me but he warned us to simply refuse and say no thank you, if you take it then they say you stole it.
During this time, we also we walked through the different quarters: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian. All living in peace side by side. Each quarter felt noticeably different as you effortlessly moved between them. That is except the Armenian quarter which had armed police preventing anyone in. I learnt you can enter but at very specific times.
We then moved to the ‘Wailing’ or ‘Western‘ wall which you have to enter through a security check to get in and out.
The first thing to note is to be respectful – this is a ‘working’ prayer site and whilst attracting huge numbers of tourists who do intend on praying, this is also where many citizens will be seen especially at Shabbat. So no smoking, drinking, eating or,at Shabbat, taking photos. Legs and shoulders should be covered if wishing to pray at the wall (and men’s heads)
The second thing is that the wall is divided into two: male and female. It is the Jewish male duty to pray so they have a much larger section. Some of which you can’t see unless you enter (which only men can)
Many people come to stand and pray but many come to place a message to god in the wall via a note on a piece of paper. There are stands with pieces of paper and pens you can borrow if you didn’t bring one with you. The notes are collected every couple of months and buried under the mount of Olives as the Jewish law forbids prayer notes to be thrown away. But if you can’t get there to leave one – they will do it for you via their website!
Don’t underestimate how even if you aren’t religious how exhausting these few hours can be. So much information, so many emotions and so much to see. So before it’s over we head to lunch at the Golden Panoramic City Resturant – which by a total fluke was also a rooftop! Wouldn’t really recommend the food but the views I would!
And so the whirlwind visit to the jewel in the Middle East was over. Feeling a sense of calm despite this busy bustling vibrant city everyone was very quiet and reflective as we then drive down into the desert to the Dead Sea. *link to that coming soon!’
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