MH and I are in Israel for a few days, starting with two nights in Jerusalem.
It is MH’s first time to Israel, and my first return for at least 25 years – in fact I first visited the country in 1968.
We are staying at the luxurious Mamilla hotel, centrally located on the edge of the old city, yet with the nightlife and restaurant zone just a stroll away.
I am not openly religious, but I told MH that she must “be prepared for the bible to come to life”. After her first day of exploring MH totally agreed. Jerusalem is in incredible city, with an amazing history and culture. The contrasts and diversity of Jerusalem are everywhere. It is a delight to explore.
We started our tour with a private guide on a trip up to the Mount of Olives, to get an impressive overview of the city. From there we continued through the Garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus was arrested) before entering the old city which is split into four quarters – Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Each has its own character, with highly individual churches and Mosques, and the Muslim area is particularly vibrant, with its narrow lanes and busy souks.
We then continued on the Via Dolorosa which traces the path of Jesus as he carried the cross to his point of crucifixion. There are 14 stations of the cross on the route, although only 8 are mentioned in the scriptures. The walk, at a leisurely pace, took just over an hour, ending at the impressive Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
A truly fantastic day. Even if you are not religious, it is impossible not be moved by what you are experiencing.
After that it was time to explore the more modern new city, with its upscale shops and lively restaurants. I like to consider myself a bit of a music buff, so I thoroughly loved the sight of a traditional Hasidic Jew complete with black hat, coat and beard singing contemporary pop songs. I then stumbled upon a classical violinist on a street corner suddenly switching to an incredible version of “Stairway to Heaven ” – magical stuff. There was also the rather amusing site of Orthodox Jews suddenly bursting into hip hop dancing.
We both agree that you need an experienced guide to get the best out of the Jerusalem, especially if you want to see a lot in a short time. It is a complicated city. Sure, you can see a lot on your own, if you have 4/5 days to spare, but most tourists budget for two or three days at most. So you really do need a good guide to plan a logical sequence to maximise your time.
We are off to Bethlehem tomorrow morning and then onto Tel Aviv in the afternoon for a couple of days, so more to come.