I began my first visit to Israel and Jerusalem with some apprehension not knowing what the political climate in the country might yield. A single event occurred while I was there but had nothing to do with me.
Jerusalem Impressions On Me
The country itself is a confusion of many worlds, policies, and people. Each has its own merits I am sure but, I did not go to the country to publicize those. Instead, I want to tell you about the city of Jerusalem, the people I met and the place I stayed while I was there.
Israel is an expensive place to visit compared to SE Asia or even for Eastern Europe. There is street food but even doing that you will likely pay $6 for a meal for one person. The food is good and unique to this part of the world. Falafels or Shawarma are the two foods of choice and of course the huge pieces of bread that look like a pretzel.
Jerusalem Housing Near the Old City
I had chosen to stay at a place called the New Palm Hostel. 1) Because of its great location — less than 4 minutes from the Damascus Gate. and 2) Because the rates were by far the best I could find near the Old City Area of Jerusalem. There are many reviews pro and con about the hostel but it was in my budget.
I was happy and surprised that I had an adequate sized room with a private bath. There is a flight of stairs to reach the hostel Its location above a large market can make it a bit noisy. That depends mostly on your room location within the hostel. “Harry” the manager took care of me in every way possible. There are free coffee and teas available, and a kitchen to use to offset the cost of buying meals in restaurants.
Two young ladies keep the floors and common areas spotless. The people who say it had a terrible odor have not experienced life in countries such as Israel. Plumbing in the old town areas is hundreds of years old and this is something to expect.
The Palm Was Perfect For Me
I would not tell my mother to visit the New Palm Hostel because she would want a little more niceties. I would tell every backpacker and budget traveler such as myself. They would be happy with the hostel. The Palm offers both location and value for your dollars. You get a clean comfortable bed and good service. In addition, you get a perfect place for your excursions to the sites of the old city of Jerusalem
After getting into my room I was ready for a good rest. I had spent the night in the Sofia, Bulgaria airport. Before resting, however, I did go down to the market and purchased some eggs, fruit, and sausages. I made a great meal in the kitchen for about $2.
What to See In the Old City
My first day in the city was an experience, to say the least. If you think about it, the streets are the same streets from the time of Jesus, the Romans, and the Crusades. Every building and rock in the streets exude the essence of history. That excites me more than almost anything except for photographing those places.
I know that many people will never get to see these sites. I want them to get a good view of the way the world is outside of their day to day life. Also to see the world through first-hand eyes and news reports. The world is different from what you might see on CNN or your local news.
I spent the day exploring the streets and shooting a few pictures then returned to the hostel. I had an early dinner and settled in to watch a movie on the computer.
The Western Wall
The second morning I was awake at 5:30 am and took my first visit to the Western Wall or Wailing Wall. This is not the local description as many know it outside of Jerusalem. Here it is better known as the Kotel.
This is the most sacred site in the city for the Jewish residents. It is the only part left of the original temple from biblical times. The destruction of the temples of Herod took place in the Roman Seige of 70AD or CE.
The Ottoman rule replaced it with the Dome of the Rock. Today on one side of the retaining wall is the holiest site of the Jewish Faith. On the other side is the Dome of the Rock the most sacred site for the Muslim faith in Jerusalem.
I am never disappointed by visiting the Western Wall. and I return again and again on every trip to Jerusalem. My images from the first day needed a little boost. I arrived in the huge open square and small fence that separate the square and worship area. The worship area was full of men who come to pray each day. Each arrives at his time to go to the wall and pray.
They write their prayers on small pieces of paper and place them in the wall cracks for god to receive. This tradition has been done for over 2000 years now. They must remove the prayer papers once a year. The notes get buried at the Mount of Olives.
The prayer area has a section for both men and women with a fence dividing the two. The women's section is much smaller since few women go there to pray.
I met a man who had finished praying, he is Jewish but from London and now lives in Jerusalem. He asked where I was from, all about me and what I did. He then called over a friend who had expatriated from South Africa to visit as well. I spent more than an hour drinking coffee and visiting with them both.
I needed so much information from them but it seemed as they were more interested in me and what I do. They urged me to go down and enter the prayer area for photographs. To get a more first-hand look at the time spent by the worshipers each day. It was exciting and meaningful for me and I look forward to a return trip.
The Garden Tomb of Jerusalem
My second day explored one of the two sites purported to be the burial site of Jesus. The Garden is outside the Damascus gate and aligns with many of the biblical references. The location on the Road to Golgotha, the property belonged to Joseph of Arimathea and the tomb. This is exactly as the Bible describes it even down to the large round stone to block the entrance.
Pilate gave the body of Jesus to this man for burial after his death. He took the body and buried it in a tomb that he had already created for himself. The men placed a large round stone at the door to the crypt. I do not know if this is the place or not. The events took place here and it is a moving experience.
The Temple Of the Holy Sepulcher
The second place is at the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre. I am visiting that site as well next week. In a later installment, I will tell you what I find there and try to analyze the pros and cons of the two sites. They are both within a mile of each other and either could be or neither is the correct spot.
I have been so happy that I chose to make this trip. Met the people here and shared my stories and their stories as well. Had lunch with a young man I met at a local food stop. His name is Abdullah Al Natsheh and our conversations started when I saw his camera on the table.
I am not a shy person so it was easy to strike up a conversation with him about photography. He is Palestinian and so I got the opportunity to share not only his meal but his stories as well. He is an aspiring videographer and photographer.
The world is a fantastic place and the people that inhabit it are as well. Every person we have met has been kind and helpful to us. Nobody has ever questioned our faith, our politics or the color of our skin. They take us at face value as we take them at theirs.
I find it sad that the world and its governments have not been able to make the same leap as their citizens.