Mount of Olives

06.24.2010

I have noticed a phenomenon in Jerusalem.  I am not sure if it’s just because people really don’t know or they don’t want to know, but if you ask a question related to anything Arab or Palestinian, all of a sudden people don’t know a thing about it.  Today was no different.  I asked at the reception desk at the hostel about an Arab Bus Station with busses to go to the Mount of Olives and got the blank look, the shoulder shrug, followed by the “I don’t know, never heard of it” statement.  Um, hello.  Yeah, it’s in my guidebook.  Sometimes I ask just to see what kind of a response I get.

The guidebook is a little bit vague about where the Arab Bus Station is, so I set off towards the Damascus Gate figuring I would just look for a lot of busses in one place.  My plan worked!  The bus station was just past the Damascus Gate, on the opposite side of the street.  I asked for the Mount of Olives bus and was directed to the right one.  It was a few shekels, if I remember correctly.

The bus went to the top of the hill and I got off somewhere that looked good and started to walk back down the hill.  There’s a viewpoint with an amazing view of the Old City to the left as you head down the Mount of Olives.  I was going to go into the Church of the Pater Noster, but they wanted 7NIS and I didn’t want to spend the money.  Yeah, I know it was less than $2, I am just being cheap on this trip!  I continued down the way and stopped at Dominus Flevit.  The Franciscan friar watching over the chapel was so nice.  He asked me if I was traveling alone and I shared with him a bit of my story.  I ran into the group of Singaporean pilgrims from yesterday and told them how much I loved their singing from yesterday.  One of the women asked to take my picture.  She was so cute.

I continued my walk down the hill.  I was running out of time and worried I might miss the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane.  The churches on the Mount of Olives close between 11:30a and Noon and don’t open again until 2p.  It was getting close to 11:45a, so I passed on the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.  They also wanted me to put a robe on because women can’t wear “pantalones” in the Russian Orthodox churches, which was just going to take more time I didn’t have.  I hurried down to the Garden of Gethsemane and walked into the Church of All Nations.  There was a pilgrim group having Mass, so I wasn’t able to really walk around the church too much, or even have any quiet time.  It seemed smaller to me this time.  I’m not sure why.  This is the church that tradition says has the rock that Jesus agonized over his impending death.  It’s right in front of the altar and the only way to touch it is to be a part of a group celebrating Mass there.  There were friars hovering around waiting to close the doors so I decided to head back to the Old City.  As I was walking out of the Garden of Gethsemane, one of the pilgrims from a tour group actually “took” an olive branch.  Before I could catch myself, I said, “That is SO NOT OKAY!” really loudly.  There was a guy selling postcards who saw it and he was wagging his finger “no” when he saw it.  Can you imagine if everyone did this?  There wouldn’t be any olive trees left.  Grrr…..I was not happy about that.

I left the Garden of Gethsemane and sat on a bench outside while I decided what I wanted to do next.  The Lion’s Gate was fairly close and up a short hill, so I headed that direction.  There was a pizza place listed in the guidebook that sounded good, and it was close to where I was.  When I arrived, there was a group of American tourists just clearing out.  They were blocking the door and I was able to finally get through and ask for a menu.  The guy thought I was a part of the group and I let out a firm “No!“

A few minutes later, Katia, a girl from the Couchsurfing meetup the other day, walked in and I invited her to join me for lunch.  She was having some problems with her travel plans.  She was supposed to be going to Bahrain next, then India.  Her plan was to secure her Indian visa in Bahrain, but then her friends in Bahrain told her she might not be able to come due to her Israel stamp in her passport.  She had gone to the French Embassy (she’s a French citizen) to find out what it would take to get a new passport and they said it would take 21 days and it would still say it was issued in Jerusalem so that idea was not going to work.  I suggested that she contact the Bahrain Embassy closest to Israel and see what their stance was.  According to my guidebook, Bahrain is one of the countries that depending on the current situation, determines if they are taking passports with the Israel stamp or not.  I figured it would be best to get the information from the “horses mouth”.  We ordered some pizza and I was able to convince her (along with the guys taking our order) to try the mint lemonade slushy stuff that seems to be everywhere.  She liked it, and I told her about the lemon/mint gelato I had the other day in the souk.  After lunch, Katia left to go do some more research and I headed back to the hostel for a nap.

This was my last night at the hostel, so I went out and walked around Jaffa Road and Ben Yehuda Street for a bit.  I found a bookstore with travel books in English, but they didn’t have the one I was looking for.  I am trying to find the Rough Guide for Southeast Asia.  If I can’t find it in Tel Aviv, then I will go ahead and buy the Lonely Planet Guide for Southeast Asia.  Those seem to be everywhere.  I also was able to get an International Herald Tribune so I could get a dose of news from home, as well as a little bit of Israeli news with one of their papers also inside.  I figured I will have time to read the next couple of days with Shabbat at Rachel and Baruch’s place.