Ah Jerusalem.. i had always wanted to visit this place, maybe it was because hearing about it from a young age in school it seemed like such a foreign place and so far away with so much history.
Alas, this city was my main reason for wanting to visit Israel (no matter how many times i heard ‘why are you going to Israel??’) so after 4 nights in Tel Aviv and despite the ‘unrest’ that was being shown on the news and in the media i took a public bus to Jerusalem which only took an hour and cost 19 ILS/ £3.20.
A nice guy who had been on the bus with me showed me the way to the tram which is just outside the bus station, showed me how to buy a ticket, reminded me to validate my ticket once on the tram (which was good as an inspector came around and i didn’t want to get a fine like i did in Bosnia for not validating my ticket!) and then told me which stop to get off at.. all very easy!
My hostel was in the Old City by Jaffa Gate which was a great location for me and i was paying £12.00 a night so after checking in and seeing the view from the hostel rooftop i headed straight out to explore.
It was quite surreal to be there- it is, after all the Holy City and one of the most Holiest places in the world and although i’m not religious you have to admit its a city that plays a bit part in life and all that we were taught at school about Christianity.
After trying to follow a map as i was walking around the Old City i decided to give up and just keep on walking and see where i ended up as it felt like i was in a real life maze. I walked down a narrow street full of vendors, past a few restaurants full of tourists, i turned corners here, turned corners there and then all of a sudden i would be down a street which was completely empty which i guessed was residential and all the while i was passing through all 4 quarters of the old city- the Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters, and although at the time i didn’t realise i was entering a different quarter (except for the Jewish which had a sign) i quickly picked up on it from the different items that are sold in the shops and the locals that are walking around.
It’s worth noting here that 35,000 people live in the Old City and that everybody gets along just fine, all 4 groups live and work in close proximity together and they just make it work and live in peace.
In the afternoon at 2pm i took a free walking tour which was a good introduction to the city and a good way to see more than i had in the morning, the guide explained how you can’t actually get lost in the city (although i would like to challenge him to this!) because if you head back onto a bigger street they all join up and end at one of the gates around the cities perimeter.
We also learnt that ‘new’ in Jerusalem means anything less than 100 years old (so not really that new) and the main thing is that tradition is what counts in the Holy City, if there are facts against something but tradition said it happened there.. then it happened there!
We visited the Church of the holy Sepulchre where it is said that Jesus was crucified and resurrected and we viewed the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism from a vantage point, the following day i went to visit the wall.
The thing that i found about the Old City is that although it is of course old (in fact its over 3000 years old!) its been destroyed and rebuilt so many times than from looking at some of the buildings it doesn’t actually appear that old!
The following day after i had visited Bethlehem, i came back to the Old City to visit the Dome of the Rock which was one of the main sights i wanted to see while in Jerusalem.
It isn’t a mosque like i thought but a Muslim Shrine and is built over a sacred stone and is the oldest Islamic monument that stands today. The actual golden Dome of the temple can be seen in the city skyline and from a far looks very beautiful. The inside of the temple is only open to Muslims and the outside is only open to tourists during certain hours- 7:00-11:00 in the morning and 13:30-14:30 in the afternoon.
The entrance for tourists is by the Western Wall so after viewing this i joined the then short queue at about 13:00 which got considerably longer as the 30 minutes went on. At 13:30 after another security check (you have your bags checked and have to go through a security gate to enter the Western Wall too) i entered the walkway up to Temple Mount.
I headed straight for the Dome of the Rock and it was stunningly beautiful! Due to me being at the start of the queue there weren’t many people so i got some great photos and walked all around it.. temples really are my favourite and this may well be my favourite one!
I really enjoyed my 2 days in Jerusalem, for me it was enough time to get a good feel of the Old City.
I felt a huge amount of peace and quiet while walking around the city, especially in the side streets i found where there were no other people to be seen and it felt kind of magical.. i guess they don’t call it Holy for nothing.
I would recommend staying in the Old City so you are right there in the centre of the action, although i did head into the new city to book a tour which i also liked so it’s worth venturing to and having a walk up the main street too.
Appropriate dress is required and stops you drawing even more attention to yourself, trousers or a long skirt is good, there’s no need to cover your shoulders but like most religious areas carry a shawl for when you go into the Church, Temples and Western Wall.
There are lots of tours on offer from Jerusalem included the half day Bethlehem tour which i did, a trip to the dead sea, Masada, Nazareth in the North and lots more. I highly recommend using Abraham Tours which are part of Abraham Hostel.. a hostel with a really good reputation that is in the New City.
And lastly, do not let the Media put you off visiting Jerusalem or Israel itself! There was so much negativity in the news while i was there yet i didn’t sense or see anything bad at all.