22 December 2009


by Chris

So finally....one of the places at the top of my travel wish list.

One of the oldest cities on Earth, the meeting point of 3 religions, and probably the most disputed real estate in the history of the world.

After arriving at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, I found a shared cab with some other people for the 45 minute drive to Jerusalem. The trip took almost 2 hours as the other people were going to outlying suburbs. It was a nice ride and I got to see lots of the city. My destination however was the Old City.

The taxi (8 euros, bargain) dropped me near the Damascus gate.

I was so giddy with having finally arrived that I didn't take any pictures after entering the city until I had reached my hostel. I checked in, dropped my stuff in my room, and headed straight for the roof. Wow.

Map in hand, I headed out to start mentally mapping the Old City. The shops were closing or closed and the streets were getting deserted, as it was Friday night (Jewish Shabbat starts at sundown Friday)

The Old City is a maze like warren of passageways, tunnels and alleys making up the largest Souq (Arab Market) I have ever seen. It is absolutely incredible.

It was great to be able to criss-cross the Old City getting my bearings without any crowds, although it was kind of spooky. There are Police and Israeli Defense Forces wandering about and stationed at certain junctions. It feels relatively safe, but you can easily get turned around or lost.

I walked all the Major routes between the four quarters (Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish) and also made a stop at the Western (Wailing) wall which is open 24 hours a day.

After several hours of preliminary reconnaissance, I went back to my hostel and crashed with plans for an early start.

I was woken by the Call to Prayer at 4:45am, turns out there is a mosque minaret just outside my window ! I got ready to go, and by 5:30 I was on the roof to see what this place looked like in the day....wow.

I've been lots of places....but standing on the roof at sunrise in Jerusalem, I was totally stunned.

My hostel, The Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, is run by an Austrian order of Nuns. Its an impressive Citadel-like building well above street level, surrounded by huge stone walls and iron gates.

It is centrally located on the corner between the Muslim and Christian Quarters on the Via Dolorosa (Sorrowful Way / Stations of the Cross), so I could stop by several times during the day to freshen up or drop off purchases.

They have a small Viennese coffe shop and garden which is a perfect place to sit, have some coffee and recharge your batteries.

On the first day, I completely canvassed the Old City going from Gate to Gate (all 8 of them) seeing all the major sites and everything in between.

above, The Lions Gate (St Stephens gate) that leads out to the Muslim cemetery and to the Mount of Olives beyond.

below, The Zion Gate, still pockmarked with bullet holes, was the seen of heavy fighting for control of the Jewish Quarter in the 1948 War.

I was out early so, again, I had many streets mostly to myself for several hours.

The shopkeepers are very pro-active about getting you into their stores. On this particular morning, one elderly gentleman sitting on the curb asked me if I want to see his shop, his son was just opening it and he indicated they had many treasures. I said "no thanks" to which he replied "Please....its very early, you are a tourist, nothing is open yet, sit and have some tea with me...make me a nice morning"

Ok nice old guy, I would like a cup of tea.

While he sent someone to get us tea, he offered to take me up on the roof.

He and his family are Bedouins and have lived in Jerusalem for many generations. We stood on the roof and he pointed out the major sites and gave me some great historical notes about the areas of the Old City that was very interesting. We then went back down to his shop for tea.

Of course, he and his sons started in on the business of selling me stuff, so I told them "I am a tourist and I will be buying stuff. I will, of course, buy the stuff here,but lets enjoy our tea first...make me a nice morning (to use his phrase)" They were well pleased and completely dropped the sales pitches and we had a very nice time (Me, the older guy and his two 30-something sons) just chatting, drinking tea...for over 2 hours !

I bought some items and off I went. I stopped by their shop several times over the next few days and even saw them on the street. They always greeted me like an old friend and never tried to sell me another thing. It was incredibly hospitable of them and for me it was nice to feel like I knew someone in the city. They gave me great advice on where to eat and what to see at what times. A very cool experience.

By now the streets were filling up with tourists and people going about their local business.

I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is built over the site where Jesus is supposed to have been crucified, buried and resurrected.

It is full of holy sites, relics and Christian history as you can imagine. The building itself is incredible.

I took my new Bedouin friends advice (and my guidebook) and had lunch at a roof top restaurant called Papa Andreau's.

mmmmmm Falafel and Beer....mmmmmm

The weather was gorgeous, sunny and 70-75. I sat there and listened to the Call to Prayer over lunch and caught some rays....burning my bald dome in the process, but not too badly.

The only other people up there were some New Yorkers, Gabrielle and Aziz, who I chatted with for a while. We hit it off right away and agreed to meet up later in the day, walk out to the Mt of Olives and watch the Sunset over the Old City.

Now having a plan for later, I headed back into the busy markets to head through the Jewish Quarter, go out the Zion gate and explore Mt Zion (humming Bob Marley the entire time thanks to this singing disease inflicted on me by my wife and her family)

Across the Kidron Valley I could see the West Bank Barrier Wall, a sobering reminder of the tension in the region.

I went down to one of the Old Jewish cemeteries and found the grave of Oskar Schindler...neat.

I walked around the sites on Mt Zion including the Tomb of King David, and the room of the Last Supper. (below)

Then back through the city, quick stop at the hostel then head out for sunset.

I met up with Gabrielle and Aziz at the Lions Gate, we walked down into the valley and up to the Mount of Olives. We did a walk through the Gardens of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus went after the Last Supper to pray and was arrested.

Up the Mount of Olives we continued, until we reached the spot.

Great view of the city.

above, Me, Gabrielle and Aziz.

We spent a couple of hours up there chatting and watching the sunset...but as the temperature dropped we headed back down to the City. Destination, Dinner.

We spent the rest of the evening talking more and having a great time, and a great dinner at a French restaurant. After dinner, Gabrielle had to catch a bus to Tel Aviv so we all said our goodbyes and Aziz and I planned on meeting at some point on Sunday.

Sunday was another early day. I had breakfast at the hostel, which puts on a very nice buffet.

First goal was to walk from the Damascus gate through the Muslim Quarter to Herod's gate and beyond, where the Crusaders breached the Walls when they took Jerusalem in 1099.

The Muslim Quarter is off the beaten path for most Western tourists. There aren't a lot of shops or sites, and it is the most densely populated area of the Old City. The gates here open to east Jerusalem, the Arab neighborhoods and the "capital" of the Palestinian territories.

I saw the graffiti, above and below, several places throughout the city. It turns out that it is not just random criminal mischief but it indicates the houses of families who have recently made the Pilgrimage, Hajj, to Mecca.

The big stop today was the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.

Below, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.

The Dome of the Rock is built over the spot where Mohamed ascended to Heaven.

This site is highly disputed since the Dome of the Rock is built in the center of the site where the Jewish Second Temple had been prior to being destroyed by the Romans.

The shrine itself is incredibly beautiful, especially on a sunny day.

The Temple Mount, Noble Sanctuary to the Muslims, is a large open space with several gates back into the Old City and also the location of the al-Aqsa mosque.

Back to the Christian Quarter for lunch...hmmm what should I have ?

More Falafel...and Beer ! I could live on this stuff...seriously.

After lunch, I headed for the Jaffa Gate , paid my 16 Shekels and got to climb up on the Ramparts of the city wall. You can walk almost all the way around the city...which I did, from Jaffa Gate to Lions Gate. Amazing views of the city and a peek into the lives of ordinary residents off the beaten path.

Later that night, I met up with Aziz and we had dinner at a local run joint, then went for a couple of Martinis at a nice restaurant outside the Jaffa gate. A great end to a great day.

The next morning, I got up early and made one more visit to the Western Wall, The Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Enjoying the city for the last time on this trip. I checked out of my hostel and spent an hour reading the paper in the garden, drinking coffee and reflecting on an amazing trip. It really was spectacular.

Thanks Jerusalem, it was worth the wait to finally meet you.

I also took some videos. In this one, I try to negotiate with a shopkeeper by invoking the name of my notoriously frugal Uncle....to no avail.


Tina Haltigan said...

Wow Chris. You are very lucky to get to see all these great places. Miss you here in boring Florida

Chris said...

Get a passport and join us for an adventure Teensy....you tell me where you want to go and I'll arrange everything.


Anonymous said...

If only it just took a passport!!
I've thorougly enjoyed all your pictures and writings about all the travels you and Kelly have made. Keep 'em coming. And Teensy, you are very lucky and have a wonderful life. We're all not made of Kelly and Chris stuff and "boring" can be nice. I'd rather hear about them all and view the pictures than actually do all the work involved to see all these places, lazy ass that I am!

Jim said...

You guys just keep getting better & better!! I enjoy your posts very much!!
Jim Watkins, the elder

Anonymous said...

Hey there!
I really enjoyed your last post - again! Please keep going and let me share some small part of all the places you´re seeing. Waiting for your next adventure.
Greets and have a very Merry Christmas time!

Chris said...

Thanks for the comments everyone !

Our next trip will be Dec 29-Jan 4

Bucharest (Romania), Thessaloniki/Salonica (Greece), Skopje(Macedonia) and Belgrade (Serbia)!

Merry Christmas !

Kelly said...

My darling, I could not be more thrilled that you had such an amazing time in a place you've dreamed of visiting. Great post.
Maybe next time I'll come along.

Anonymous said...

R all of those pictures your own? U take such beautiful pictures....Easy there, dont get all full of urself it is a small compliment (lol)....my fav is the video at the end...you touch it you buy it, certainly very different from here in the states where u actually have to break it to buy it. I would love to be on all of these trips but wld b scared to go alone. I hate getting lost, andf for me that is very easy. So I am glad you do such great documentation of your life. This documantation, pictures and all should be published in a book for your family to read about years after your gone. Probably one of the greatest keepsakes ever, and I hate keepsakes. ha ha, say keepsakes 10 times and it sounds ridiculous...i digress... anyway, thanks for sharing

GillyBean said...

Hi Chris - What an amazing trip! I just love your blog. Hope you and Kelly have a wonderful Christmas!

Sandy Rev2B said...

Amazing blog and pictures! I'm definitely going to show off your Jerusalem blog to my youth group! You have one grateful youth minister on your hands. Thanks!


Chris said...

Thanks Sandy! Just checked your web page, great story...congrats to you and good luck. Stay healthy!