Most travelers visiting Jerusalem focus their stay within the old city walls, following guided tours or shopping the colorful markets that line each cobblestone alley. I will reflect on the Old City in more detail, but first, let’s venture outside the city walls for just a bit…
Jerusalem is more than a tourist destination or a history lesson on many ancient sites. There’s a modern, vibrant city full of life just outside the old walls! I recommend taking a stroll around the Mammilla neighborhood to explore the many restaurants and bars. This hip part of town is clean and classy with a lively nightlife. Our favorite hidden gem was a speakeasy called Gatsby Cocktail Room (look for the large glass doors with no sign just next to an Aroma Coffee store). We thoroughly enjoyed the view from the top of the Mamilla Hotel, as well as a wonderful dinner in the beautiful gardens of The American Colony in the old embassy district.
We also took time to visit the Holocaust History Museum – Yad Vashem. It’s about a 20 minute train ride, from the station near the New Gate, to the southernmost stop (Mount Herzl). From here it’s just a 10 minute walk to the museum. I think it’s good to seek knowledge and learn more about past events, even when those events may be very difficult to digest. The museum is laid out beautifully, slowly walking you through events leading up to, during, as well as after the holocaust. I spent the afternoon crying (no joke – and I’m not one who is easily brought to tears), as the museum paints a very detailed picture, including personal accounts, that will tug at even the toughest heart’s strings. It’s moving and a very different form of tourism.
Now, let’s reflect on the Old City… where we did spend most of our time…
This is by far the most dynamic place I’ve ever experienced, and that’s saying a lot. There’s so much history, so much culture and (in turn) so much controversy. Jerusalem’s Old City is divided into four quarters: the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Four different cultures with varying beliefs, all with a deep history that ties them together, and all surrounded by a wall dating back to ancient times.
Our hotel was in the Muslim Quarter, and we arrived during ‘Call to Prayer’ (a methodical wailing that can be heard in almost every part of the Old City). I was reminded of the dedication and piety of the people around me, who stop what they are doing five times a day, every day. The women were covered from head to toe, a symbol of modesty and privacy, and here I am.. an American in short-shorts and a tank-top. For me, it’s important to be respectful when you are fortunate enough to experience a different culture, exploring their world… time to change into more conservative clothes.
I felt moved as we wandered the streets, experiencing passionate people in every quarter. We watched Jewish men and women line up at the Western Wall on separate sides, men wailing and women crying. I spent quite a bit of time on the woman’s side, in awe of the emotion surrounding me. In this specific area, it’s polite to cover your head and lower your voice out of respect for those who are praying. On the men’s side it’s customary to wear a yarmulke (but don’t fear, one will be provided for you).
We continued to wander the streets, and watched Christians line up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, waiting to kiss the Golgotha Altar (or Calvary), which is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified.
I recommend taking it all in, and visiting each quarter with an open mind. Regardless of your beliefs, Jerusalem is a uniquely powerful place, and I feel fortunate to have experienced the history and the cultures that created this dynamic city. To those of you who would like to reflect with me, and experience the city through my eyes (albeit, a much more conservatively dressed version of Andrea 😉 Let me take you on a walk through Jerusalem…
We spent three days exploring Jerusalem before setting out on a road trip further south, through the Israeli desert. Our time here was eye opening, educational, and proved to be an experience that I will reflect upon often, especially as the controversy within this volatile city continues to rise.