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- Visited September 2018
If Jerusalem had a relationship status on Facebook, it would be ‘It’s complicated’. It even has its own syndrome (Jerusalem Syndrome – Google it). It’s a place that forces you to contemplate/confront your belief system whether you want to or not. A place with this much history and numerous sites of religious significance across the faiths is always going to be complex, not your average holiday destination. Jerusalem is challenging, magnificent, vibrant, a curious blend of past and present, and unlike any other place I’ve visited. I loved it and felt very safe and comfortable there – but was unprepared for the mental and emotional impact it had upon me.
I’m not a religious person (considering myself spiritual instead) but can appreciate the importance of faith to those who are; Jerusalem is considered by many to be one of the holiest places in the world and when there, you cannot avoid thinking about your own ideologies. Although I tended to be impressed by the historical context of sites visited rather than their religious importance, Jerusalem has a multi-layered fabric of stories ready to share with travellers, from the 3,000 year old City of David to the unmissable Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. This is not a place you come to relax, there’s simply so much to do and that can be physically exhausting. Give yourself plenty of time to uncover the layers and you will be rewarded. I spent ten days in Jerusalem – I didn’t manage to do everything but ten days was enough time for me to get round the key sites I wanted to get to and have an overnight trip to Bethlehem (read about my stay here Bethlehem). If you visit anywhere in Israel you will have to keep in mind Shabbat. Every week, from Friday evening to Saturday evening, the majority of things will be closed (i.e. most museums, shops etc) and Israeli public transport stops running, so you will need to factor that into your planning. An excellent website that will help with planning your trip to Israel is https://www.touristisrael.com/
- Day 1 – I took the 2 hour free walking tour that leaves from Jaffa Gate at 11 am and 2pm. This tour gives a good introduction to the city and takes you round the Old City. You are expected to tip the guide.
- Day 2 – I walked towards Mount Zion, visited Oskar Schindler’s grave which is nearby, then walked to the Tomb of David, the Room of the Last Supper and then went to the Tower of David museum (if you buy an 80 NIS combo ticket this will admit you entry to the museum and a night show at the Tower – you will have to book a showtime then you buy the ticket). As this was a Friday, I stayed at the hostel in the evening and took part in the Shabbat dinner.
- Day 3 – Most things were closed until the evening as this was a Saturday. As I love street art, I visited the Machane Yehuda market which was closed but reveals street art on all the stall shutters when closed. I then walked to the Israel Museum, one of the few places open on a Saturday. Entrance is 54 NIS and you get an audio guide included. This is an excellent museum – I was there four hours and didn’t get to see everything. Though the museum is open on a Saturday, its cafes are not so take plenty of water and a snack with you. I saw the ‘King David’ light and sound show at the Tower of David in the evening. Everyone seems to love this but I was underwhelmed – it’s probably good for kids though.
- Day 4 – Visited Yad Vashem. Do not miss this if you visit Jerusalem. It’s incredibly moving and informative. It’s free to get in. You can get an audio guide but don’t bother – the History Museum has detailed signage in English throughout. Give yourself plenty of time to get round everything – I was in the History Museum for 3 hours. When there, you must see the Children’s Memorial and the cattle car Memorial to the Deportees – both chilling.
- Day 5 – I took a Mount of Olives guided tour arranged through my hostel. This cost 120 NIS. You will see the the Church of the Ascension – the place where Jesus is said to have ascended, the garden of Gethsemane, a couple of other sites and get a great view of the Dome of the Rock. I recommend this tour. In the evening I did the Western Wall Tunnels tour – this cost 30 NIS and you get to go under the Western Wall to visit the tunnels. A fascinating insight.
- Day 6 – I took a ‘Holy City’ guided tour arranged through my hostel. This cost 110 NIS. I was disappointed with this. The guide talked at us too much and the tour seemed to drag rather than be enjoyable. My friend and I left early (after 4 hours with no rest break…). Although you do get to go into Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you could easily do these by yourself. Save your cash and don’t bother with this tour.
- Day 7 – My overnight trip to Bethlehem.
- Day 8 – travelled back from Bethlehem and had dinner with hostel buddies.
- Day 9 – re-visited the market (Friday is a good day to go as you’ll see the locals in action buying supplies for their Shabbat dinners) and went to the Museum on the Seam, a socio-political contemporary art museum. This cost 30 NIS. It’s a small but interesting place. Nice rooftop cafe with an observation point. Give it a miss if you are not into art though. Second Shabbat dinner in the evening at the hostel.
- Day 10 – I was exhausted! On my last day I took advantage of Shabbat to rest, do laundry and catch up on some blogging.
Other things you can do in Jerusalem include visiting the City of David, guided tours to the West Bank, trips to the Masada Fortress and the Dead Sea. You can also do a Shabbat Experience tour on a Friday evening in the Old City.
Just a note about Ultra-Orthodox Jews and the area Mea She’arim. Whilst it is fascinating to see Ultra-Orthodox Jews dressed in their conservative dress, you will need to respect the fact that they do not appreciate being stared at, photographed or spoken to by outsiders (even if you are just asking for directions). Mea She’arim is the main area where they chose to live and though it may be tempting to wander there to go and have a look at the old-fashioned way they choose to live, my advice is just leave them be. They do not welcome outsiders (particularly hating large tour groups) so you go there at your own peril. If you are not modestly dressed, expect to be verbally abused or spit on. They get angry when people do not respect the rules of Shabbat too – so if you drive near Mea She’arim during Shabbat, expect rocks to be thrown at your car!
Though Shabbat can feel a bit inconvenient with so many things being closed, just incorporate it into your planning and go with the flow. Jerusalem becomes quiet and peaceful during Shabbat so embrace it and enjoy it. Use the time to contemplate your beliefs… or for planning your next travel adventure.
Selection of pictures from my stay:
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