First Day in Jerusalem

06.22.2010

This morning I woke up later than I had planned because I forgot to change the time on my alarm clock (aka my cell phone).  I was not happy about that and as a result, was a little rushed to get ready for the day.  Rachel and I had some cereal and coffee for breakfast, before heading out.  She dropped me off near a bus stop and I took the #2 bus as instructed.  I got on the bus, noticing a lot of Orthodox Jewish men…..then it hit me.  This was a “segregated” bus.  All of the men were sitting up at the front of the bus, and all of the women were sitting in the back.  Oops.  I guess they have these busses around Jerusalem, but I had no clue.  Luckily, they know I am not Jewish by my dress (khaki pants with a t-shirt and a hat), and the little bit of my tattoo sticking out from under this particular shirt I was wearing.

The bus dropped me off right near the Damascus Gate.  I started to head towards the Jaffa Gate where the Tourist Office is located.  The Old City smells and sounds all came back to me in one huge olfactory overload.  It was just how I remembered it, and really, I didn’t expect it to change much.  It hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, so why would it change in fifteen?

I made the mistake of asking for directions and the next thing you know I am in a shop being offered coffee, then taken to the guy’s cousin’s place and given coffee and the hard sell on the lovely items in the shop.  I politely refused,  explaining I really didn’t have the money on this trip and excused myself to continue along to the Jaffa Gate.

I found the Tourist Office and got a better map than the Lonely Planet book (which sucks, by the way).  I was able to get a handout with all the bus lines to get to the top tourist sights, too, which should be helpful.  I found out about a free walking tour of the city and it was leaving soon, so I went to outside the Jaffa Gate to find the group.

Unfortunately, the free tour guides had all called in sick, so they only had a regular walking tour for 75NIS called the Holy City Walking Tour.  This tour went to all the sites considered holy by the Christians, Jews and Muslims.  It sounded interesting and would allow me to refresh my memory on some of these places I had been to before.  It also might allow me to meet some people for a change.  There were lots of Americans, a few Canadians and Australians and an Irish girl on the tour.  Our guide, Dvir, was great.  He did a fair job of explaining everything and answering questions.  He also took us to a great place for lunch.  It was one of the places recommended by Lonely Planet and it lived up to the hype.  For 35NIS, we got a drink and a selection of food to eat.  There was hummus, fuul, falafel, pita, tabouleh, and a bunch of other food I am still not sure what it was, but it was all good!

He took us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Small Wall (a portion of the Western Wall hardly anyone ever visits), the Western Wall, the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock), and Mt. Zion (King David’s Tomb and the Upper Room of the Last Supper).  It was four hours total and worth every shekel!

There were some new developments since the last time I was in Israel.  The most interesting one was the prohibition of non-Muslims in the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  This is a security measure due to some unfortunate circumstances in 2000.  I was disappointed because the last time I was on the Temple Mount in 1995, I became violently ill from food poisoning and had to leave rather quickly to avoid getting sick in the Dome of the Rock.

After the tour, I went through the Armenian Quarter to Jaffa Gate to find an internet café.  I had noticed a sign earlier and needed to check in with Rachel for our evening plans.  We were going to meet for dinner after she got off work at 6p, then head to the Ice Cream Social being hosted by local Couchsurfers.  I found the internet café and was able to google map the restaurant she suggested.  It seemed pretty easy to find and it would allow me to scope out the hostel I was going to stay at for the remainder of my time in Jerusalem.  I was also excited because it was an Ethiopian restaurant and I love Ethiopian!

I decided to go ahead and head towards the Ethiopian place even though it was only 4p.  I figured I would find some things to do on the way.  I found Jaffa Road and saw why it is such a popular place to hang out.  It really is the City Center.  There are all kinds of shops, lots of restaurants and it has a very good vibe to it.  I turned off onto Ben Yehuda Street, another popular place with lots of shopping.  It’s the kind of street you go to if you want to people watch or take an evening stroll.  There were street musicians and people with informational booths set up.  I don’t know what they were for since my Hebrew is non-existent, but it was cool to see some of the same things we have back in Portland.

I found a coffee shop and got an iced coffee slushy drink.  It was so good with all the heat we had today.  It had gotten up to 36°C, one of the hottest days I have had so far.  I sat on a bench and watched people for a bit.

I found the Ethiopian restaurant without any difficulty.  This place was down an alley and had NO signage, I don’t know how they stay open!  Rachel met me just after 6p and I ordered a meat dish because they were out of what I really wanted, a dish called Doro Wat.  Rachel ordered a vegetarian dish because the Ethiopian Jews adhere to a different rule of kosher than what is considered kosher by most observant Jews.  I learn at least one new thing every day here!

After dinner, we walked up the street to the Souk, another market with fruit, vegetables, nuts, and clothing shops plus cafes and restaurants.  I was able to find a mezuzah for my mother with the help of Rachel, so at least I know it’s authentic and kosher.  It doesn’t have the scroll in it, I am going to see about getting one later.

We left the souk and headed towards the place where the ice cream social was supposed to be.  We found it without too much difficulty and I ordered my ice cream while Rachel went to find an ATM.  There was quite a large group of Couchsurfers and I was able to chat with many of them.  They were very nice and welcoming, like most Israelis I have met so far.  We had a good time, but we needed to leave after a couple hours because it was getting late and we still had to pick up Linda from Rachel’s parents.

For my first full day in Israel, it was a good one.  I did a lot and saw a lot.  I slept very well!