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porcupine Jerusalem - A travel report by Bryan
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Jerusalem,  Israel - flag Israel
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porcupine's travel reports

Forgetting My Right Hand In Jerusalem

  16 votes
The following is a compilation of suggestions from my 6 months in Israel. In another article I have covered Tel Aviv and the rest of the country. Hold on to your kippa, we're going up the Holy Mountain. report of the month contest
Apr 2008

Dome of the Rock detail
Dome of the Rock detail
Actually the first thing that captured my attention when arriving in Jerusalem was the fact that it is located on several hilltops, elevation 760m (2,500 ft). This makes the climate much more comfortable than Tel Aviv in the summer, and considerably colder outside of summer. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport the best way to get to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv is by a small private bus known as a Sherut. There will be several outside the front door, just ask the driver which city they are going to. The cost is between 20 and 40 NIS (New Israeli Shequel) or $5-$10 depending on when you are riding. Try not to arrive after sunset Friday or on Saturday because of the Sabbath when nothing runs. If you’re female you will not be allowed to sit next to any Orthodox so be mindful of this as it can cause a lot of excitement. There is also a train to Tel Aviv and soon there will be one to Jerusalem. Let me emphasize that it’s a small country. Driving to Tel Aviv from the airport takes about 15 minutes and 45 to Jerusalem.

The main pedestrian/café/shop area in the city is called Ben Yehuda. The sheruts stop at the bottom of Ben Yehuda where it meets Yaffa Road at a place called Kikazion. Remember the spot because it is a good place to catch a Sherut to Tel Aviv. Otherwise the bus station at the entrance of the city on Jaffa Road is the best place to get transportation to places inside the city and around the country.

Of course the main place to be in Jerusalem is the Old City. If you want to be in the heart of the Old City, stay at the Austrian Hospice on the Via Dolorosa. You definitely need to make a reservation well in advance. Its roof is the best place to hear the Call to Prayer even if you’re not staying there. Another option in the Old City is the hard to find Lutheran Hospice near St. Mark’s Church. St. Andrews Hospice, the YMCA, and the King David are all on or near King David Street, while the American Colony Hotel is in the rougher eastern side of town near Nablus Road.

Favourite spots:
City Walls at night, Christmas Eve
City Walls at night, Christmas Eve
The Old City is a maze with lots to see. My favorite places were the Holy Sepulcher Church, St. Anne’s Church, The Tower of David Museum, and of course the Dome of the Rock area. If you are non-Muslim, entering the Dome of the Rock itself is off limits these days. If you go to the wailing wall prepare to be prayed upon your head and then solicited for a donation. This is a customary collection for the poor and devoted, not an individual begging for his own sake.

At Jaffa Gate near the Tower of David is the only entrance for the Ramparts Walk where you can walk on top of 2/3 of the city walls. It was one of my favorite activities and I did it about 4 times. Takes about 2 hours to do both sections, partly because of backtracking. Another great walk is through Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

What's really great:
My sandal in Hezekiah's Tunnel
My sandal in Hezekiah's Tunnel
The entrance to this ancient water transport system is through the City of David outside the Dung Gate, and it is the only thing worth doing there. Wear shorts and sandals and bring a headlamp. The water level in the tunnel varies depending on the season, and it is not for the claustrophobic as you will spend at least a half hour walking through this human body sized stone tunnel with a continuous flow of rushing water at your feet. Fantastic.

Up on the Mount of Olives to the east of the Old City are a few churches that will cost you a hearty climb. The golden domed Russian Mary Magdalane church is almost never open so before you make the trek, see if you can find out. If not, the Dominus Flevit Chapel is usually open and you will get the best picture of the Old City from its altar window.

Friday at the Shuk. Band plays in between Nachlaot and the market on Agripas
Friday at the Shuk. Band plays in between Nachlaot and the market on Agripas
The Pater Noster at the very top of the hill is nothing special to see and I would only go if you have a religious reason. Same goes for Peter Galicantu, and everything near the Zion area which has buildings associated with King David’s Tomb, the Hall of the Last Supper, and Mary’s Church of Dormition. You will find that a lot of sites in the Old City are more symbolic than actual, but don’t let me spoil the party, it’s all worth exploring and you can make your own determinations.

The best place to go outside of the Old City is where I lived in the Nachlaot neighborhood and to the Mahane Yehuda Market known locally as the Shuk. This is where you will find the coolest old stone neighborhood outside the Old City, the best restaurants, and the most zeal for life. Just watch out for slippery sidewalks from all of the discharged floor cleaner. Tour books make a big deal out of Abu Shukri restaurant on the Via Dolorosa for hummus, and you should go if you are there because it is good and cheap, but there are many more kinds of hummus in the Shuk. The best food in Israel by far is the hummus and falafel. Do not bother trying to find a good hamburger or anything western. It is always a pale imitation. Eat the local food and you will spend less and eat better. Try the Topolino restaurant on Agripas.

Obligatory nuts and fruit with top of bags curled down at Mahane Yehuda
Obligatory nuts and fruit with top of bags curled down at Mahane Yehuda
The Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim is just north of the Shuk. There is nothing to see there except Orthodox Jews living their lives, and they don’t want tourists. So if you must satisfy your curiosity go ahead and check it out. There’s nothing to be scared of, just dress modestly and mind your own business. Same is true of the Muslim neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Food is generally cheaper there and the people are friendly so don’t be afraid to take a walk through. There is a great modern art museum in between the east and west neighborhoods called On the Seam. Why not do something a little hip, contemporary, and political while there.

Woman exiting the Damascus Gate
Woman exiting the Damascus Gate
Near the Knesset is a big and beautiful area called Sacher Park. Great for walking around (especially the Wohl Rose Garden). One of the oldest and best preserved ancient Christian churches is there, the Monastery of the Cross built in the 11th century over the place where the cursed tree grew from which the wood for the cross was taken. The museums at the park’s edge like Bible Lands, Shrine of the Book, and the Israel Museum are good but each has their faults. The Israel Museum is being renovated until 2010, the Shrine is a huge disappointment with its replica of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Bible Lands is filled with suspiciously perfect artifacts. Personally I preferred the Rockefeller Museum near the Damascus Gate.

Orthodox man in Old City near Jaffa Gate
Orthodox man in Old City near Jaffa Gate
Finally, my favorite place in the suburbs of Jerusalem was Ein Karem. You can hike there in 45 minutes if you take bus 20 to Yad Vashem and simply walk into the valley. You can’t miss the huge trail that is part of the Jerusalem forest where John the Baptist must have gone on many a hunt for locust and honey. The trail empties you right into Ein Karem where you can visit the Church of John the Baptist and the Church of the Visitation. Go a little further on the trail to Hadassah Hospital (or take bus 27) to see Chagal’s famous and beautiful stained glass windows. Of course you should also go to Yad Vashem itself, which is the main Holocaust Memorial for the state of Israel. Mount Hetrzel next door is good for hiking and interesting for its graves of famous Jews like Hertzel himself, Rabin, and Golda Meir to name a few.

Riderless donkey at the surprisingly green edge of the Old City
Riderless donkey at the surprisingly green edge of the Old City
Otherwise people of all ages and backgrounds are living their lives there every day. If you are more afraid than a 5 year old child to walk down a street or to have a falafel at a restaurant then don’t go. If not, go and see for yourself what all the fuss is about and draw your own conclusions. L'Chaim!

Other recommendations:
Rebbe Schneerson says hello
Rebbe Schneerson says hello
Always check the latest political situation before going, but don’t let it stop you unless it is really bad. If you are waiting for it to be perfectly safe you will never get there. Be smart, stay out of huge inescapable crowds, take the bus sparingly, and until things change stay out of the West Bank.

Published on Saturday April 19th, 2008

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Tue, Jun 03 2008 - 01:31 PM rating by magsalex

Fully deserved report of the month.

Sat, May 10 2008 - 06:10 AM rating by marianne

This really deserved to be the RoM

Mon, May 05 2008 - 02:02 AM rating by confusemuse

Shalom, Bryan! I just came back a week ago :p my trip wasn't as adventurous as yours, so maybe if I ever ge back there I'll follow a tip or 2 from you. Great report by the way :)

Fri, Apr 25 2008 - 04:56 AM rating by jorgesanchez

I love this report.

Sun, Apr 20 2008 - 02:44 PM rating by rangutan

Excellent report with a lot of tips and info.

Sun, Apr 20 2008 - 06:06 AM rating by horourke

great report

Sun, Apr 20 2008 - 05:47 AM rating by davidx

Masses of helpful information and fine pics.

Sat, Apr 19 2008 - 06:04 PM rating by mistybleu

Bryan, thanks for a very informative report. I would so love to go there. Maybe next year.


Sat, Apr 19 2008 - 04:00 PM rating by krisek

Nice report. I'm not intending to go to Israel anytime soon, so I find it interesting. Thanks for posting.

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