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July 29, 2006 – A journey to Jerusalem, Israel in Middle East

Holy Refuge

Flew into Tel Aviv airport not knowing what to expect from this country either. Again, have been warned many times about avoiding travel in Israel, especially at the time when we’re going. But when is it ever a good time to visit? The flight was preplanned a while ago. Unfortunately, it was by mere coincidence to come at a time when heavy fighting had erupted in the north between the Israeli army and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since the north just got crossed off the itinerary (Haifa, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, and a few other places – Lebanon would’ve been cool, too), decided to just mosey around places that were considered “safe.”

The original plan was to head to Tel Aviv for the first night. But Rick discovered a shuttle service from the airport bound for Jerusalem for 45 shekels ($10 USD) a head. So, we took that and the shuttle dropped us off in front of Jaffa Gate outside the Old City. Rick then went to look for accommodations. He came back around an hour later and didn’t look too hopeful. Discovered that many of the hostels have been booked up by Israeli refugees from the north. Rick tried a second time and we luckily ended up staying at the East Imperial Hotel near Jaffa Gate for a decent price along with free Internet.

bagel cart before Jaffa Gate (the bagels are huge here and not donut-shaped)

Old City Jerusalem is amazing – seems like every site and building has some sort of historical significance to it. Even before we set off exploring, read that our hotel was built on top of a well where King David saw his best friend’s wife bathing (who he later slept with after killing his best friend).

The Old City is comprised of four quarters: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Armenian. It’s hard not to get lost in this walled-up city. I couldn’t figure out exactly which quarter started and which one ended while walking through the narrow old stone streets. Unless if I was at a major recognizable site, I was pretty confused for the first couple of days there.

the Old City looks quite small in comparison to all of Jerusalem – looks can be deceiving

view of fortified Old Jerusalem from Mount of Olives

one of the many pedestrian streets in the Old City (this one is in the Armenian Quarter, I think)

Absorbing the many different sights and sounds is an incredible experience, too. In one day I’ve seen and heard: Christian church/monastery bell tolls every fifteen minutes in the early morning and afternoon, calls to prayer from Islamic mosques, young Jewish people walking around Friday night singing loudly in Hebrew, and so much more. It’s a wonder to see a fortified city contain all sorts of diverse religious groups thriving together in a frenetic harmony.

the Wailing Wall in the Jewish Quarter

view of one of the many churches in the Christian Quarter

market madness at Damascus Gate, a gateway to the Muslim Quarter

Met and talked to all sorts of people – Israelis, Christians, Palestinians, Jews, atheists/agnostics, north Israeli refugees, and tourists/travelers from all over the world. Topics included the current situation in Israel to religion (what else?) to culture and so forth.

One time when Rick was at a kebab stand in the Muslim Quarter, he was conversing with a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. At the end of the conversation, his new friend invited him to Mecca!

even had a short conversation with this shopkeeper (he sold Turkish delights, dried fruits, nuts, baklava, fresh fruits, and various other sweets and goodies)

It’s hard not to have some sort of human interaction while walking around the streets in Old Jerusalem. Many of the streets are lined with souvenir shops and stands. Found it pretty funny to see that many of the souvenirs are actually imports from other countries (e.g., India, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, etc.). Saw some cool Israeli shirts and army hats though.

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