Sunday, August 2, 2009

6 Jerusalem, Israel

Since our flight to the Middle East was our first using our OneWorld round the world tickets, we arrived at Heathrow slightly nervous about whether this whole thing was actually going to work. The last couple weeks was our original honeymoon as planned but now it was time for our REAL round the world trip to begin. Much to our delight checking in for our Royal Jordanian flight to Amman was about as simple as it gets, they scanned our passports and promptly handed over two boarding passes.

It wasn't until we landed in Amman, Jordan just past midnight that we got a little bit of a scare. We were the last people to go through passport control-- we paid for our visas, handed over our passports, and were ready to get on our way. "This is not a real passport," the Jordanian official said to Katrina, and pointed out some ink blots that apparently indicated a counterfeit. Our hearts just about stopped. Patrick stared blankly into oblivion in shock while Katrina started vigorously trying to prove the passport was valid, pointing to visas and the places she'd traveled with it. A minute or two passed before a smile spread across the official's face; he was just having fun at our expense, and thought his joke was pretty amusing, which it probably was if you were watching the blood drain from our faces. This rattled Katrina so much that she mixed up our Arabic lesson from the plane and for the rest of the night was using the word for "hello" to say "thank you".

And that border control was a piece of cake compared to crossing from Jordan to Israel the next morning. After a brief sleep, we hired a cab to take us from Amman to the border and when we arrived, we hopped in the long line that stretched ahead of us. What was brought to our attention only after we finally reached the head of the line was that every other person in line was Jordanian, and we had to be directed out a side door and through a courtyard to find the tourist processing center. Here there was less of a wait in a air-conditioned room to get our passports checked and we were very happy once we finally got our exit stamps. But this was only the Jordanian side.

We then waited about 45 minutes to board a bus that took us over the King Hussein Bridge to the Israeli side of the border. Once there it was an absolute free-for-all; hundreds of people crammed into a seemingly shrinking entrance room, not even attempting to form the two lines suggested by the half-hearted barriers. For the next hour or so we were surrounded by pushing, shoving, crying, yelling, all to move 10 feet forward and through the metal detectors. Then it was off to another room to wait for passport control, and then two more questionably necessary passport checkpoints until we were finally, FINALLY in Israel! It took us a total of four hours to cross the border.

There are not many options from the border to Jerusalem. We could either take a cab or use the one shared van company that would take us. We took the van, which dropped everyone off on the side of a street just within the Jerusalem city lines. We had no idea where we were, and no map, so we just started walking in what seemed like the right direction. Overall the strategy worked pretty well, and we eventually found ourselves in the heart of the new city where we were shocked to find a dearth of hotels. We expected that like in London, we would come across a street full of places to stay where we could stop in and compare prices. Unfortunately there is no such "hotel row" in Jerusalem. After learning that a hostel would cost us only $15 less than a room at one of the hotels, we checked in and made Hotel Zion our home for the next three nights. The room was a bit dingy and a few door handles and such were missing, but we had running water, a comfy bed, and AC---it was a great place to come back to at the end of the day.

While we slept in the new city, we spent most of our daytime within the old city walls. Jerusalem is awesome--in the literal awe-inspiring sense of the word--with thousands of years of history layered atop one another. We got a great introduction through a free walking tour (given by Sandeman's New Jerusalem), where we spent three and a half hours visiting the four quarters and getting acquainted with the city. It gave us a good sense of what we wanted to explore further and first on our list was the Via Dolorosa: the stations of the cross. We traversed windy streets, churches, and the Suq El Bazaar (the bustling market that takes over some of the old city's main arteries) to go through all 14 ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church holds claim to the site of the crucifixion and Jesus's tomb, and is also one of the largest buildings we saw in the old city. What's also fascinating is that 900 years ago, after much in-fighting between the six christian denominations that jointly run the church, a Muslim family was given custody of the keys and to this day that same family unlocks the doors at 5am each morning, and closes up at 9pm.

We also had the opportunity to visit the Western Wall on the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second temples of the old city. Hundreds of worshipers packed the area in front of the wall and a huge group of young men sat in a circle singing nearby. It was truly a soul-stirring experience.
The impressive sites do not just lie within the city walls. Outside Zion Gate we visited David's Tomb and above, the room in which the last supper was held. At the foot of the Mount of Olives, we visited Mary's Tomb and saw a massive Jewish cemetery--prime real estate for the End of Days, so much so that plots go for $25,000 a pop.

After weeks of living off baguette and cheese, it was great to get some nutritional variety in our diets. Patrick ate his first ever falafel, we tasted street food concoctions of cheese, pistachios, and honey, and we feasted on goodies from the Mahaneh Yehuda Market. We went to the market a few hours before sundown on Friday and joined hundreds of others in stocking up on food before the Sabbath. There were stands with fruit, vegetables, meat, challah, cookies, cheeses, salads, and much more. We settled for some fresh hummus and lavash, picked up a few unidentifiable treats, and made our way back to the Zion to picnic in our room.

We also spent a good amount of time resting in our room. Between the rapid pace of our first couple weeks, the extreme heat of the mid-day sun, and the fact that a lot of sights (and pretty much everything else) were closed on Saturday we found ample time to lounge around and watch the few English channels we got on TV which aired shows ranging from Becker to the new 90210 to Ellen episodes from March to our new favorite Australian navy drama: Sea Patrol.

View more pictures from Jerusalem here.


  1. Thanks so much for documenting your trip! Jerusalem sounds incredible, and I see you're in Egypt now - amazing. Keep writing!

  2. i am reading the article and watching the pictures and remembering the tour i have done to israel. so beauthiful country. jerusalem is so spiritual Place.

  3. Hello,
    My name is Adva, and I am writing a master thesis on travelers in Israel and the Palestinian territories. I read your amazing blog, and i wonderful if you can answer a few questions:
    1. Did you use a guidebook to Israel?
    2. If you did use a guidebook, of which company was it.
    3. If it was of the Lonely Planet, which edition was it? (It is writing in the back cover and in the first pages usually, and if you dont have the book, can you try to remember what appeared at the front picture cover?)
    4. Would it be ok that at the future I will send you more questions?
    5. Thanks

  4. This post reminds me of my stay in Jerusalem. I read it with great joy (and had to smile when I read 'picked up a few unidentifiable treats'). Good you chose to take the shared van and not the cab - I am sure this decision saved you a lot of nerves. I slept in the Old City, which I am glad I did, though the noise level at night was not lower than during the day. It was just different sounds. But I agree - Jerusalem is awesome. The markets are fantastic, food is great (especially fresh hummus!), people are interesting and there is so much to see.

  5. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this
    post was great. I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you aren't already ;) Cheers!

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