Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Last Day in Old City Jerusalem.

Iconic view of the Old City from Mount of Olives.

Today is the official start of my tour. The guide called me last night and said he would be at the hotel lobby at 8:30a to pick me up.


I had the itinerary for the day but the one thing I've learned about traveling with a tour group is you never know if and when you're going to get lunch. So, I usually make sure I have a really good breakfast and I pack along some munchies.

I've not had breakfast at the hotel since I've been here so today I decided I would it a shot.

Breakfast is a huge buffet served in the hotel's main restaurant. The place I'm staying at obviously caters to large tour groups so it's a huge restaurant and the selection of food is pretty good. I need a hot breakfast so it was scrambled eggs with potatoes, olives and of all things, sardines. Not a breakfast I would gorge over but it was filling enough. The only thing was I really wanted some fruit but there was none.

After I was done, I headed back to my room only to realize that I had essentially wiped out my key card by putting it in my pocket next to my cellphone. I've done this once before and you would think I would know not to do it again! Getting old and forgetful :-(

Luckily, there was only one person standing in line at the receptoin desk so I was able to get the card recoded with enough time for me to head back to my room, grab my backpack, and head out the front door to wait for the guide to arrive.

Not even 5 minutes later, I saw a white van pull in. I had a feeling that was my ride and that was confirmed when a man approached me, asking my name. Indeed, he was the guide. His name is Uri. Introductions over, I followed him to the van which was already full. There were three older, married couples seated inside. It feels weird to be the youngest member of the group - that has never happened.

I was the last to be picked up. From my hotel, Uri took us to the Rechavam Observation Point located on the Mount of Olives. There, you have a spectacular view of the Old City, the City of David and the Kidron Valley and the Church of the Dormition.

The white dome of Hurva Synagogue in the upper left, gray dome of Al Aqsa on bottom left, gold dome of Dome of
dome of the Rock on the lower right, and gray dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the upper right.

The one and only Dome of the Rock.

Just beneath us was a Jewish cemetery and at the base of the eastern wall of the Old City was a Muslim cemetery.

Dual arches of the Golden Gate which the Muslims had walled over. Muslim cemetery in the foreground.

Gold domes of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and the gray and white dome of the Dominus Flevit Sanctuary.

Since this was my fourth day in Jerusalem, I could recognize many of the buildings by their domes - Church of the Dormition, the Hurva Synagogue, Al Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I still can't get over this amazing city that three of the world's great religions consider to be a holy site.

From Mount of Olives, Uri drove us to a parking lot outside Zion Gate. From there, we took a path that ran outside the city walls to make our way to Dung Gate. It was during this walk, that I realized that several members of the tour group have difficulty walking. I thought I was bad walking down unpaved paths but they were infinitely worse. With all the walking that you have to do in Israel, I don't know how they are going to manage. Slowly, I guess. The plus side is that I can get ahead and take photos without holding anyone back. Yay!! I found the silver lining in the cloud!

It was another glorious day in Jerusalem and I actually enjoyed the walk along the path - beats having to fight out way through the crowds inside the walls.

The path alongside the walls, from Zion Gate to Dung Gate.

A nice patch of green to stroll by.

The dome of Al Aqsa Mosque towers over the walls. Ruins

Entering Dung Gate.   This is the closest entrance to the Wall so there is a lot of security.

We arrived at Dung Gate and split into two groups - men and women - to go through the security line. Funny how there was such division at any of the other security checks I had gone through the past few days. There was no scanner working so bags had to be hand checked and that held things up a bit.

For me, this is the fourth day of seeing the Wall so it was not quite as an exciting moment for me as it was for the others for whom this was their first sight. I still remember as I saw it for the first time so I understand their reactions.

While Uri told the story of the Wall, I headed down to take more photos. I had told him all the places I had been too since arriving on Sunday so he was fine with me wandering off. For some reason, I'm obsessed with getting a shot that speaks of the place and I think I finally managed to accomplish that this morning. I did follow my fellow female tour members to the womens section and while they actually walked up to the wall, I hung back and took a photo. In the *old* days, men and women could pray side by side but my understanding is that Orthodox Jews who control how the wall is used for prayer have essentially legislated that the sexes must be separated. I read somewhere that an uprising is happening and women are fighting for there not to be any separation. I notice that the women never face their back to the wall so even as they exit, they walk backwards.

The women's section of the Wall.

The men's section of the Wall.  Faithful could pray in peace; t's early morning so there were few tourists about. 

A close up view of the the men with their tallits and tifflins on.

The view of the Old City with my back to the Wall.

Before we left the Western Wall Plaza, I asked Uri to take a photo of me. Not the best but it shows I was there.

Me at the Wall!

From the Western Wall Plaza, we made our way to the Muslim Quarter.

A convenience store in the Muslim Quarter.

Typical street in the Muslim Quarter.  It's so quiet in the early morning.

Keep your eyes out for the beautiful Islamic architecture.

At one point we standing to look at something, I can't remember what, but I heard someone asking my name. I turned around to see Marione (sp?), the German woman who was on my tour to Jericho!! What a small world this is!! We smiled, grinned, laughed and hugged each other. Though we had only spent about 5 hours together, I felt like she was a familiar face and it was nice to reconnect with her. She was walking the Via Dolorosa on her own and had just passed Station IV.

Station V of the the Via Dolorosa

There was a small room with an altar inside.  Nothing else.

View of the Via Dolorosa.

Christian Quarter.  Street cleaned and ready for the daily onslaught of tourists!

Marione and I chatted as we made our way to Stations V, VI and VII. Then, one of the couples wanted to go inside a jewelry store and so the rest of us stood outside and waited for them. Marione and I chatted to bide the time. I asked Uri to take a photo of us and I snapped a couple of Marione. I like here. I think if we lived in the same town, we would friends. She's full of life and loves adventure and I really enjoy being in the company of people like that. Today was her last day in Israel - she had been in the country for the past week, traveling on her own - leaving her son and daughter behind. I suspect she's a single mom.

Marione getting her camera snap on.

The two accidental tour mates :-)

Marione.  She is full of life!  I truly enjoyed every minute of our time together.

Station VII of the Via Dolorosa.

Anyway, once the couple emerged from the store, we continued our walk and soon arrived into the Christian Quarter, emerging from the souk to the sight of the Church of the Redeemer.

Marione and I were still catching while Uri and I were waiting for the rest of the group to catch up. Marione decided she wanted to step inside the Church of the Redeemer. In the meantime, the group had arrived and I had to move on. I never got to say goodby to Marione. Fortunately, she had given me her card with her email address so I will reach out to her. I now know her name is spelled without the "e" and her last name is "Singh". She did tell me that she had lived in Delhi for two years.....guessing that's some how tied to her last name.

Church of the Redeemer

Christian Quarter.  Full of souvenir vendors and Russians!

Need a cross or two or a thousand?

The group marched on and we stopped at the courtyard, that fronts the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, before entering in. Uri went into "guide spiel" mode which you either pay attention to or not. In my case, it was not because I had already done my reading and was nearly as well versed in the Stations of the Cross, inside the Holy Church of the Sepulchre as Uri was. I should be a guide except I'd get bored telling the same story over and over and over and over again.

Entry courtyard of the Churhch of the Holy Sepulchre.  You can't tell from the outside but it's PACKED on the inside!

Once inside, we immediately headed up the narrow stairs to Station XII which is located inside a Greek Orthodox chapel.

Narrow stone steps leading up to the Greek Orthodox Chapel.

The altar surrounds Golgatha, the rock venerated as the site of the Crucifixion. I could see the rocky outcrop through the glass on either side of the altar. Beneath the altar was a small crawl space that faithful Christians can go to touch a section of the rock. There was a line of people queueing up to the altar. I opted out, taking photos instead. The small chapel was absolutely PACKED with people. I don't mind having people in my photos but I could barely get a shot in without someone standing in the way and by in the way, I mean standing right in front of me!

The altar in the Greek Orthodox Chapel.  Visitors can crawl underneath to touch a small section of the rock.

There was a queue of people to get to the crawl space.

Glass enclosure on side of the altar covering the rock.

The queue of people waiting their turn to crawl under the altar.

Prayer candles.
 
Looking from the Greek Orthodox chapel back down to the entrance to the church.

Next, it was back downstairs to the Rotunda which is the location of Station XIV, the site of the burial.

Looking up at the dome in the Rotunda.

The tomb of Christ is inside a small structure in the center of the room. It was a really long line to get in and according to Uri, it would take an hour to get from the back of the line to the front so we had to opt out. Oh....and I took a picture of an altar that I wasn't suppose to. I wasn't told to delete the photo from the camera so I kept it.

In the Rotunda.

The altar I wasn't suppose to take a pciture of.....I don't know why the restriction.

Room with Christ's tomb.  There was a break in the line.  I quickly snapped the photo.

I don't know what this space was but it was a pretty room.

On the way out of the church, I stopped to take a picture of the Stone of Unction and the large mural that depicts the time from Crucifixion to burial.

Of all things, I forgot to take a full picture of the Stone of Unction which is on the floor, in front of the man in the photo.

It was nice to be back outside, in the fresh air and away from the mass of people inside the Church.

Uri led us to a store selling souvenirs and the like. Given its location in the Christian Quarter, it also offered images of Christ and Mary and crosses in as many forms as you can possibly imagine. Of course, there was a deal to had (1/2 off) if you were interested. I had no interest so I headed back outside and sat on one of the plastic chairs that the shopkeepers normally sit on as they fish for potential shoppers. I was getting thirsty and even though I had my water bottle with me, I all of a sudden got a hankering for some fresh pomegranate juice. It's been four days in Jerusalem and I've not yet had one glass so I decided to go for it. I found a vendor around the corner and for 15 shekels (what highway robbery!), I got about a 10 oz plastic cup full of juice. I watched the vendor as he juiced up 3 whole pomegranates to get the one cup of juice. I went back to my spot in front of the shop and sipped on my juice. It was good but damn expensive. I think everything in the Old City is expensive.....for tourists. If I was a local and bought the juice, it would probably cost 2 shekels!

Refreshing pomegranate juice.

Uri had given us 30 minutes for our break. By the time that was up, we were still missing two people. When they finally made their way back, the group decided they were hungry so Uri took us to a local (tourist) restaurant where we had three options of food to pick from - buffet, falafel sandwich or shawarma (lamb or chicken) sandwich. I opted for the lamb shawarma sandwich which came with a drink and for me, I've really been enjoying the grapefruit juice here so that's what it was for me. The sandwich was okay but the one I had yesterday in the Jewish Quarter was much tastier.

After lunch, we walked from the Christian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter to have a quick look at the Cardo.

Remains of the ancient Roman columns.

Mural in Cardo depicting what the market would have looked like in Roman times.

Then, we made our way to Hurva Square. While the rest of the gang followed Uri inside a jewelry shop, I hung outside and took in the views of the Hurva Synagogue. I don't care to shop for jewelry and it was too gorgeous a day to waste it inside.

Yesterday, I thought the door was to a Synagogue.  Today, I read the sign.  It's the door to a Kabbalah Yeshiva.

Hurva Synagogue.  Next trip, I will sign up a tour to visit inside.

From the Jewish Quarter, we made our way back to Zion Gate where we stopped to take a look at King David's tomb. We exited the gate and made our way to a building located near the Church of the Dormition.

View of Old City ruins on the way to Zion Gate.

Exiting Zion Gate.

The rough looking facade of Zion Gate is from bullets fired at it during the 1948 war.

Alleyway leading to the Church of the Dormition.

Getting closer to the entrance.

Standing in the entry courtyard looking back at the alleyway I just walked through.

Statue of King David.

Church of the Dormition.

Inside the Church is where the Last Supper supposedly took place. Beneath the Hall of the Last Supper was a room that for some reason, we had to divide up into sexes to enter. There was a partition, that I could not see through, separating the men from the women. It ended right in the middle of a stone tomb. I took a picture, it was very strange. When we entered, there was a woman sitting on the white, plastic chair, resting her forehead on the stone tomb. She was clutching a small book in her right hand.




We were in and out of the room in less than a minute. Back outside, we stood near the statue of King David as Uri told the group a bit of his life story. After that, we headed back to the van. Our time in the Old City was over and we were on our way to Bethlehem.

I'm so, so, so glad that I arrived 3 days early so I could explore Old City Jerusalem. For the tour, this is the only day in the Old City. It was astonishing how much was missed out on. I'm going to voice that in my tour feedback - there should at least be a second day to the tour. As well, they should advise travelers to come a few days earlier. In all honesty, there is still so much left for me to see. I would love to come back one day and continue my exploration. I have a couple of travel partners that I will have to work on about doing a trip to Israel :-)

But, for now it's all about Bethlehem! Back to the van and down the road we go!