Jerusalem was my spiritual journey and will begin my series of travel stories on 3QT. I spent my life growing up Roman Catholic but never identified with it completely. I took courses on religion in college to better understand the historic aspect of each one and give myself an opportunity to interpret each religion using my own filters. Of all of them I wound up identifying with Buddhism the most! (That’s another story!). I did decide I wanted to visit Jerusalem once in my life. What was it about this area of the world that held the most sacred spots of our 3 major religions? For 3000 years, the Holy Land has seen unwavering faith, war and conquest from what seems like every nation. I had to experience this mysteriously, fascinating and magical land for myself.
Keith and I journeyed to Old City Jerusalem over Memorial Day weekend 2015. We only scratched the surface of the Holy Land based on the amount of time we had, but seeing Jerusalem left a lasting impression on us.
Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It has a fractured past and an uncertain future, but this small land remains central to our three global faiths.
In true form, I love my lists and have decided to format my travel stories with the personal experience first and then the lists of places to go, what to see, facts, etc. I hope you enjoy this first entry.
Old City: 3000 Years Old; no liquor. Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian Quarter / Outside is Modern Jerusalem.
Where to Stay:
- To visit Jerusalem, fly into Tel Aviv. Spend the night/weekend if you can. The ride down is approx. :30 min.
- King David Jerusalem (this was where we stayed and we absolutely loved it) 10 Min walk into the Old City: http://www.lhw.com/hotel/The-King-David-Jerusalem-Israel
- The Waldorf: http://waldorfastoria3.hilton.com/en/hotels/israel/waldorf-astoria-jerusalem-JRSWAWA/index.html
- David Citadel: http://www.thedavidcitadel.com/
What to Do:
- Take an organized tour. Viator (viator.com) is a great destination for this – private and group tours available and you are able to knock out a lot of sites at once with an educated guide. We did the Old Jerusalem Full Day Tour.
- Side Trips:
- The Dead Sea: 20 min from Jerusalem and the lowest body of water in the world. Plus it’s great for exfoliation
- Bethlehem: must take a taxi from Jerusalem (at the Damascus Gate). There will be checkpoints so be weary of that. You will see the Church of the Nativity (where Jesus was born)
Quick Facts about Judaism & Sites to See:
- Decedents of Abraham / Promised Land / Torah (means Instruction) Five Books of Moses and Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament)
- Western Wall: remains of the great temple built by Herod to hold the Arc of the Covenent. Holiest of all Jewish sites. Can put petition in the wall. I did and so far my wishes have been coming true!
Quick Facts about Christianity & Sites to See:
- Jesus was the son of God = New covenant
- This becomes the new testament – life and teachings of Jesus and his apostles
- Churches didn’t appear until 200AD. Conversion to Christianity due to Roman emperor Constantine.
- Jesus’ time in Jerusalem
- Triumphal entrance before Jewish feast of Passover.
- Temple where he drove out money exchangers
- Passover Meal – The Last Supper
- Garden of Gethsemane where he was arrested
- Condemned by Jewish authorities and Pilate (Antonia Fortress or the Citadel)
- Monastery of the Flagellation
- Via Dolorosa (14 stations) walk to Golgotha
- Holy Sepulchre Church (said to be buried there and most important of the Christian sites – last 5 stations are in here)
- Christ’s tomb: marble slab covers the rock which his body was placed
- Stone of Unction: anointing and wrapping of his body
- Golgotha (Place of the Skull): Glass around the alter with a view of the outcrop of the rock venerated as the site of the crucifixion
- Ascension from the Mount of Olives. Rising on the Eastern side of Jerusalem, start at the top near the Mosque of the Ascension, walk downhill to the Tomb of the Virgin – best to go in the morning. Garden of Gethsemane is here, too.
- Mount Zion: Hall of the Last Supper, King David’s Tomb and Schindler’s Tomb
Quick Facts about Islam & Sites to See:
- Founded by Muhammad, a former merchant of Mecca in Arabia. At age 40, he received word from Allah which he transcribed into the Quran. Forced to flee Mecca (his birthplace), he moved to Medina.
- Crescent moon: symbol of Islam and resonates with lunar calendar
- Haram esh-Sharif: Noble Sanctuary is a vast rectangular esplanade in the Southeast part of old city. Site of Solomon’s temple, housed Second Temple, enlarged by Herod the Great and destroyed by Romans. Became Islamic shrine. Dome of the Rock: mosque and the third most holy site of Islam after Meccan and Medina.
Add’l Places to see:
In Muslim Quarter:
- Central Souk 3 streets – David and Chain St (Bargain, bargain, bargain!)
- David St. in Christian quarter from the Jaffa Gate is a main route down through the Old City and doubles as a bazaar
- Damascus Gate: most monumental in Old City (Roman origins)
- Herod’s Gate: means Gate of Flowers (Christians thought it was an entrance to Herod’s son’s home. Crusaders used this gate to enter the city and defeat it).
- Lions Gate: Suleyman the Magnificent built it. When Islamic fighters took the city from the Christians
- Emek Refaím St in the German Colony – 5 min from hotel for boutiques and cafes.
- May weather: 75/80 – It’s a beautiful time to visit
- Need passport
- Arab and English spoken
- 7 hours ahead of EST
- Bring adaptors (220v)
- Currency: Israeli shekel (NIS)
- Jewish Quarter: cover head!
- Always carry a bottle of water
- Bargain in souks but not city-centric shops
- Olive oil soaps and Ahava and Mineral Dead Sea products
- Taxis (white if Israeli and yellow if Arab)
Fun Food Facts
- Hummus: if you eat hummus in Jerusalem, you will never be able to eat it anywhere else again. No joke
- Falafels and Bourekas: filo pastry with cheese potato and spinach
- Meze or Salatim: starters
- Shashlik and Kebab: spiced ground meat on a stick
- Shwarma: gyros or sliced meat on a spit
- Tilapia: St. Peter’s Fish – grilled with lemon slices
- Beigeleh (Hebrew) & Ka’ak (Arabic): only-in Jerusalem enormous loops of bagel-ish bread coated with sesame seeds sold by mobile vendors all over the Christian and Muslim quarters of Old City. Make sure you get a packet of the Za’atar (an oregano based spice blend) for dipping
- Entrecote steaks: I am dorking out here – but this comes from the rib area of the carcass – think rib, rib-eye, scotch filet or a Delmonico. They are fantastic! Get your hands on one!
- There is NO meat available on Shabbat
- In Jewish establishments you cannot combine meat and cheese. Sadly, no Grilled Cheese with bacon on sandwiches.
Where to Eat: (as you will notice, Keith and I participate in ‘Food Tours’ on all holidays – we have earned every calorie!)
- Darna: Try the savory slow-cooked tagine of lamb. By far, the best Moroccan restaurant in town
- Eucalyptus: aka the locavore temple. The standout is their Palestinian national dish, Maqlouba which is an inverted casserole of lamb, eggplant and rice
- Philadelphia: the Musakhan (roasted chieck, onion, pine nots over flat bread) is exceptional
- HaShipudiya: for the kebabs although you really cannot go wrong anywhere
- Marzipan Bakery: pine rugelach
- Pe’er Bakery (behind Emek Refaim Street): Holla for the Challah
- Mordoch: Red kubeh soup (soul food!) is made of meat stuffed bulgur and semolina dumplings in a tangy broth of beets and root veggies
- Dolphin Yam Fish and Seafood: the best hummus, dipping sauces and bread I ever experienced
- Zabu Jerusalimite Bar: when we needed some American food (burger and fries) with a mix of Israeli style (spices!) this is the place to go. Ask for Efi Mizrachi – an amazing host.
- Big Apple Pizza: Believe it or not, the pizza is good and add that Za’atar spice – yum!
- We did not go, but heard in the Machane Yehuda market, there is a resident witch doctor that makes a special juice that will cure whatever ails you. I’m willing to go back and try!
- Lara and Colony were also great dining establishments
This city gives off a spiritual high. I cannot explain it…you just have to experience it for yourself. The cultural cognoscenti talk about the offerings of religion, theater, museums, but there is so much more than that. Sometimes it takes just walking around, getting lost and rediscovering something so old that will somehow become new and inspiring in your life.